House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes warned Sunday that he plans to urge lawmakers “this week” to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress for failing to hand over classified materials related to the Russia investigation.
But the Justice Department informed Nunes three days ago – on the deadline for responding to a subpoena from Nunes’ committee – that providing the information on a “specific individual” could pose grave implications for national security, according to a letter obtained by CNN.
“Disclosure of responsive information to such requests can risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
It was not immediately clear why Nunes has targeted Sessions. A source familiar with the matter said that the request falls squarely within Sessions’ recusal from all materials related to the Russia investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been fielding the document requests in his place.
Nunes has not described precisely what information he’s seeking, but he said Sunday on “Fox and Friends” that it’s “very important.”
“We’re just not going to take this nonsense of every time we peel something back, every time we need information, we get ignored, we get stalled or stonewalled,” Nunes said.
The Justice Department and the California Republican have been down this road before. CNN reported Friday that Nunes threatened to hold Justice Department officials in contempt of Congress on several occasions for failing to turn over sensitive documents related to the Russia investigation only to not read the materials once they were made available to him.
When asked about CNN’s reporting by Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Friday evening, Nunes said he wouldn’t play “process games” or discuss “specifics about how we conduct our investigation,” emphasizing that Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina has read them instead, which CNN has reported.
Despite not reading the documents, Nunes’ past threats, with the backing of the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have resulted in the Justice Department making a significant amount of classified materials related to the Russia investigation available to lawmakers, including the document that formally authorized the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the controversial surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and the records related to the infamous dossier on Trump and Russia.
This time, the Justice Department appears to have the backing of the White House in resisting Nunes’ request – at least for now.
Boyd’s letter makes clear that the Justice Department determined after consulting with the White House, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence that it was “not in a position to provide information responsive to your request regarding a specific individual.”