House Speaker Paul Ryan did not rule out Thursday holding Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in contempt of Congress, saying the House expects “compliance” with its demands for documents from the Justice Department ahead of a Friday deadline.
“We expect compliance,” Ryan said if he supported the demand from some House Republicans to hold Rosenstein in contempt.
“I’m still getting daily reports from our committee chairs about the progress on the compliance,” Ryan said. “I’m going to regroup with them (Friday) but I expect them to comply with all of our very legitimate document requests because this is the legitimate congressional oversight of the executive branch.”
The move comes as House Democrats on Thursday argued that Republicans failed to follow committee procedures for a GOP subpoena over the Justice Department records, charging the subpoena was invalid and Rosenstein could not be held in contempt as a result.
Last week, House Republicans set a Friday deadline for outstanding subpoenaed documents requested by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees to be produced to lawmakers.
A Justice official tells CNN that process is underway now.
“Last Friday, we agreed to provide a specific documents by Friday or explain why we couldn’t. That process is underway, including delivery of many of the requested documents yesterday and today,” the official said.
Precisely what new documents have been turned over this week — or will be turned over before the week is out — is unclear at this point, but lawmakers have been focused on materials related to the Russia investigation and the Hillary Clinton email probe.
A Republican source familiar with the matter says the GOP chairmen are demanding all outstanding documents from a November 2017 letter and a March subpoena demanding a wide array of records pertaining to the Russia investigation and the Clinton email probe. In a letter accompanying the March subpoena, the Republicans complained that the Justice Department had only provided a “fraction” of the documents they requested.
The March subpoena asked for “all” documents provided to the Justice Department’s inspector general on the Clinton probe. The inspector general’s initial request for information resulted in production to the inspector general of more than 1 million pages of material, the majority of which the Justice Department has indicated was not relevant to the congressional probes.
It also calls for documents related to the firing of Andrew McCabe as deputy FBI director, documents related to the FISA application for Carter Page and other Trump associates who were monitored in 2016, documents about “defensive briefings” the FBI/DOJ gave to Clinton and Trump campaigns in 2016 and any FISA records about individuals tied to the Clinton Foundation.
Several Republican lawmakers have raised the prospect of holding Rosenstein in contempt of Congress — or starting impeachment proceedings against him — if the House does not get the documents it is demanding.
Ryan joined the Republican chairman last week in a meeting with Rosenstein, and has suggested that floor action could be forthcoming if the Justice Department doesn’t comply.
Democrats have charged that Republicans are requesting more and more documents from the Justice Department in order to create a pretext for President Donald Trump to fire Rosenstein, who is in charge of supervising special counsel Robert Mueller.
Ryan dismissed the Democratic concerns on Thursday.
“I’m concerned that they’ve been dragging their feet over at the Justice Department to giving Congress — they could have spared the country a whole bunch of drama if they would have complied with the document requests months ago when they were made in the first place,” Ryan said.
But Democrats are seeking to poke holes in the Republican efforts to subpoena the Justice Department.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte on Thursday claiming that the March subpoena was invalid because he was not properly consulted.
Under Judiciary Committee rules, the chairman must notify the top Democrat on the committee before a subpoena is issued, and provide a copy of the subpoena. Nadler wrote that the draft subpoena provided to Democrats on March 19 was “substantially and materially different” from the subpoena issued March 22.
A Nadler spokesman said that “parliamentarians have made clear to us that unless Chairman Goodlatte fixes this defect, all of the Republican talk about holding the deputy attorney general in contempt is an empty threat.”
The two subpoenas cover largely the same subject areas, but there are some differences. The draft subpoena includes 14 items, for instance, while the subpoena that was issued includes nine requests for documents. There are also some additional specifics — the draft subpoena did not mention Page, while the subpoena sent cited him by name.
But a House Judiciary Committee aide disputed Nadler’s charges, saying the subpoena was valid and that the proper procedures in the subpoena were followed. The aide said that the final subpoena contained the same content, but combined several requests into one, because the items being sought were all in possession of the DOJ inspector general, so they did not have to be requested individually.
This story has been updated.