House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte plans to issue a subpoena to the Justice Department demanding memos fired FBI Director James Comey wrote memorializing his conversations with President Donald Trump, according to two sources briefed on the matter.
Goodlatte may issue a subpoena as soon as this week, the sources said.
The move would escalate a feud between the Justice Department and the three GOP chairmen – Goodlatte, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy – who have been demanding access to the Comey memos and other records from the Justice Department as part of their investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry in 2016.
Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that Gowdy had notified him of the plans to issue a subpoena. Committee rules require two days’ notification before a subpoena has been issued.
Nadler said House Republicans appeared to be trying to hold Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in contempt.
“If House Republicans refuse any accommodation short of the Department of Justice handing over custody of these documents – which it cannot do – I fear the majority will have manufactured an excuse to hold the deputy attorney general in contempt of Congress,” Nadler said.
Goodlatte wants the Justice Department to provide Congress with unredacted copies of the memos. Justice has said that the redactions were made to protect ongoing FBI investigations.
Goodlatte, Gowdy and Nunes sent Rosenstein a letter Friday demanding the memos. Rosenstein responded with a letter Monday seeking more time, while also beginning to make the case that the Justice Department may not be able to provide the full memos.
“One or more of the memos may relate to an ongoing investigation, may contain classified information, and may report confidential Presidential communications, so we have a legal duty to evaluate the consequences of providing access to them,” Rosenstein wrote.
Rosenstein noted in the letter that the FBI had previously provided access to the Comey memos in private to certain members of Congress – with the “understanding they would not be further disclosed.”
“That mutual trust – the ability to allow a limited number of persons to review documents without publicizing them – is essential to oversight of sensitive matters,” he wrote.
Senior officials on the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee were given access to the memos last year, and the list of lawmakers who have viewed the memos in a secure Justice Department facility includes Nunes and Gowdy.
Gowdy told CNN Wednesday there’s nothing in the memos that should prevent the Justice Department from providing Congress with them. He said the redactions are minor, and the larger issue is that Congress should be given access to the memos as part of its oversight role.
A Goodlatte spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.