WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a "hallmark of our democracy." (Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), during an Inaugural Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders Reception in the Blue Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a "hallmark of our democracy." (Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:21
Trump and Comey's ups and downs
Getty Images
Now playing
01:12
Trump: I didn't fire Comey because of Russia
Ousted FBI director James Comey listens during a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Ousted FBI director James Comey listens during a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
01:20
Memos add new details to Comey's story
Conway Cuomo 04162018
CNN
Conway Cuomo 04162018
Now playing
01:48
Conway: All Comey had to do was keep mouth shut
Now playing
01:22
Toobin: Comey's account devastating for Trump
Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum
Now playing
01:29
Santorum rips Comey's 'tell-nothing' book
Team Coco
Now playing
03:50
Comey on Conan: Trump spy claims are made up
photo illustration: getty images/flatiron books/allie schmitz/cnn
Now playing
01:44
Trump unloads on Twitter at Comey
Now playing
04:46
Cooper questions Trump's respect for the law
Kellyanne Conway newday 04162018
CNN
Kellyanne Conway newday 04162018
Now playing
02:01
Conway: Comey's FBI was a hot mess
comey abc 2
ABC
comey abc 2
Now playing
02:49
Comey: Briefing Trump felt like out-of-body experience
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former FBI Director James Comey leaves a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former FBI Director James Comey leaves a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:52
White House: Comey a 'disgraced partisan hack'
ABC
Now playing
02:04
Comey: Trump unfazed by Russian meddling
CNN
Now playing
01:20
Clapper: Comey accounts are accurate
CNN Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
02:08
Comey details 2017 meeting with Trump in book
Ousted FBI director James Comey listens during a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Ousted FBI director James Comey listens during a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
02:25
Timeline of Trump firing James Comey

Story highlights

The Senate judiciary committee wants to interview FBI officials as part of their probe

The congressional investigations investigating Russian interference are clashing with DOJ

CNN —  

The Justice Department is preventing Senate investigators from interviewing two top FBI officials who could provide first-hand testimony over the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the latest sign that Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be investigating the circumstances around the firing, officials tell CNN.

The previously undisclosed turf war comes as the Senate judiciary committee has not yet given assurances to the special counsel’s office that it could have unfettered access to the transcript of the interview it conducted last week with the President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., saying that the full Senate must first authorize the release of the information to Mueller’s team.

What appears to have irked the panel in particular is the refusal of the Justice Department to cooperate with a key part of its investigation. The leaders of the panel, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and the ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein, have repeatedly asked two senior FBI officials – Carl Ghattas and James Rybicki – to sit down for a transcribed interview to discuss the Comey firing as part of its inquiry into any improper interference with the FBI.

But the Justice Department has declined, citing “the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III to serve” as special counsel about Russian interference in the 2016 elections and “related matters.”

“Under these circumstances and consistent with the Department’s long-standing policy regarding the confidentiality and sensitivity of information relating to pending matters, the Department cannot make Mr. Ghattas nor Mr. Rybicki available for transcribed interviews at this time,” according to a July letter signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel Ramer, which was reviewed by CNN.

In late August, the leaders of the committee modified their request, hoping to reach an accommodation with the department.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Grassley and Feinstein said investigators would “limit the scope” of their questions to avoid the pending Mueller investigation and instead focus primarily on “independent recollections, as fact witnesses, of events that occurred before and including Director Comey’s removal.”

The committee, however, has not been able to interview those witnesses, despite asking that to happen by September 1.

“Thus far, we’ve not received cooperation from DOJ and the special counsel’s office in scheduling those interviews voluntarily,” George Hartmann, a spokesman for Grassley, said in an email.

The spokesman said there are “ongoing informal discussions” with the Justice Department to schedule those interviews but the department has “yet to produce any results.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the matter is a “question for the special counsel.” A spokesperson for the special counsel declined to comment.

The refusal to allow the Senate panel to interview those two witnesses could be a sign that Mueller is reviewing whether President Donald Trump acted properly in his firing of Comey. Critics have contended that the President may have been trying to interfere with Comey’s criminal investigation into potential Russia collusion with the Trump campaign, something the White House has furiously denied.

The fight over witnesses comes as Mueller’s investigation is colliding with several inquiries on Capitol Hill, which are competing for witnesses and testimony over possible Trump campaign links to Russia.

The Senate judiciary committee has not yet said Mueller can have access to the Trump Jr. transcript, citing a standing rule of the Senate that requires approval from the full chamber to provide any information to the executive branch to use in a pending investigation.

“Both the judiciary committee and the special counsel are engaged in important investigations, and we are committed to being as cooperative with Mueller’s office as we can, which is why we’ve been in ongoing communication with Mueller’s team,” Hartmann said.

The challenges in obtaining the transcript is one reason why Mueller’s team has communicated to some on Capitol Hill that it would like key witnesses to testify in public, rather than behind closed doors.

Feinstein told CNN this week that “come hell or high water” Trump Jr. would testify in public before her committee, largely over his June 2016 meeting with Russian operatives where he was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. But Grassley so far has been non-committal about a public session.

“I’m going to talk to Sen. Feinstein about that, and make a decision after we talk to her,” Grassley told CNN Tuesday. “But don’t forget, we’ve got several staff interviews. We’ve got to get the transcript. We’ve got to make sure that the people that gave the transcript get a chance to check it for accuracy.”