Devin Nunes had been seeking documents from the Justice Department and FBI for months
The House Intelligence Committee chairman reached a deal with DOJ Wednesday
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House Speaker Paul Ryan backed his fellow congressional Republican, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, during a meeting over the Russia investigation Wednesday, capping off a months-long dispute between the committee and the Justice Department, multiple sources with the knowledge of the situation told CNN.
CNN reported Wednesday that Ryan met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI head Christopher Wray in his Capitol Hill office, but details emerged Thursday providing new insight into how a nasty inter-branch dispute has quietly subsided – at least for now.
Over the summer Nunes served subpoenas seeking a broad range of documents connected to the dossier of compromising allegations about President Donald Trump’s connections to the Kremlin, including those related to payments the FBI made to fund it (if any), efforts to corroborate any information contained in it and whether the FBI used information from the dossier to apply for warrants to conduct surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Trump associates. The Justice Department has already allowed Intelligence Committee members and staff to review a number of highly classified materials at a secure location at the department, but last month Nunes escalated the feud, threatening top officials at Justice and the FBI with contempt of Congress if they did not meet all of his subpoena demands.
At Wednesday’s meeting – initiated at Rosenstein’s request – Rosenstein and Wray tried to gauge where they stood with the House speaker in light of the looming potential contempt of Congress showdown and Nunes’ outstanding subpoena demands, sources said. CNN is told the discussion did not involve details of the separate Russia investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
While Ryan had already been in contact with Rosenstein for months about the dispute over documents, Rosenstein and Wray wanted to make one last effort to persuade him to support their position. The documents in dispute were mostly FBI investigative documents that are considered law enforcement sensitive and are rarely released or shared outside the bureau.
During the meeting, however, it became clear that Ryan wasn’t moved and the officials wouldn’t have his support if they proceeded to resist Nunes’ remaining highly classified requests, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting.
Sources also told CNN that the Justice Department and the FBI also had learned recently that the White House wasn’t going to assert executive privilege or otherwise intervene to try to stop Nunes.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told CNN on Thursday, “The speaker always expects the administration to comply with the House’s oversight requests,” but would not address the details of the discussion.
A compromise was reached later Wednesday that allows House Intelligence Committee members to go to a Justice Department facility to view the documents, sources said. Nunes said in a statement Wednesday night that he was being given “access” to the materials he had requested. Normally congressional committees want documents turned over to them. In this case, the documents can be reviewed but not taken from FBI and Justice Department possession.
The Justice Department has also approved a slew of Justice and FBI officials to be interviewed by the committee in January, including former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, an official with ties to Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm behind the Trump dossier; embattled FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok, whose text messages trashing the President became cannon fodder for congressional Republicans last month; and recently reassigned FBI General Counsel James Baker. The committee will also be permitted to interview FBI Attorney Lisa Page (who exchanged the texts with Strzok), FBI Attorney Sally Moyer, FBI Assistant Director for the Office of Congressional Affairs Greg Brower, FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap and FBI Chief of Staff James Rybicki.
CNN has also learned from a source with knowledge of the negotiations that a second batch of Strzok’s text messages is expected to be produced for the committee next week.