The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a resolution that demands the Justice Department produce the outstanding documents Congress has subpoenaed related to the FBI’s actions during the 2016 election campaign.
The resolution, which was spearheaded by House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, is the latest step by conservatives who have been ratcheting up the pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to comply with congressional demands related to the FBI’s Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations. The measure itself is effectively symbolic, but Republicans intend to send a message to the Justice Department that the full Congress is demanding compliance with their document requests – or else.
But the resolution was approved only after a circus-like markup that included an hourlong delay – prompting a brief Democratic walkout in protest — a Republican member overriding a ruling from the panel’s chairman, a shouting match about committee procedure, and lengthy debates that devolved into fights about everything from whether President Donald Trump had stolen the 2016 election to how the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal was investigated.
The meeting underscored the tension between the two parties over the Justice Department and the special counsel’s investigation into Trump and Russia. Both sides claimed a constitutional crisis was at hand.
“The constitutional underpinnings of the republic are at stake,” said New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, who accused Republicans of passing the resolution to interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“My friend from New York is right but not in the way he thinks. The Constitution is really at stake here,” said GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who railed against Rosenstein’s handling of the special counsel probe, among other grievances with the Justice Department.
The committee ultimately approved the resolution from Meadows after it was replaced by an amendment from Jordan that demanded the Justice Department fully comply with the subpoenas from House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California.
Conservatives have been frustrated with the pace of interviews and documents obtained in the congressional investigations into the Justice Department and FBI, and the resolution could be the next move in the House Republican fight with Rosenstein over subpoenas. Republicans set a deadline last Friday for the Justice Department to comply, and GOP leaders say progress was made but not all the documents they’re seeking were handed over.
Jordan told reporters after the markup that House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised a floor vote on the resolution this week if the Justice Department did not fully comply. Jordan said that the resolution is a first step to get the whole House on record ahead of other punitive actions like contempt or impeachment, which conservatives have threatened to take against Rosenstein.
“What I want is the full weight of the House behind this resolution saying give us what we’re entitled to have,” Jordan said.
But Ryan did not indicate that he was prepared to move that quickly in a news conference Tuesday.
“I got involved a week ago. And since that, we have had compliance coming forth from the DOJ,” Ryan said. “Now the question is will all the requests be honored this week? I think they’re going to be honored very, very soon.”
And several other Republicans on the committees said they’re unsure if the House should move so quickly on the resolution while the Justice Department is making progress on the requests.
“I support that absolutely. It may be a little bit premature,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “We want to have a little bit more time to look at the documents they’re providing us.”
Stewart said that Nunes was preparing to send another letter to the Justice Department on Tuesday outlining his remaining concerns with outstanding document requests.
Judiciary Committee gets heated
In the House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, the environment at Tuesday’s markup was raucous from the time Goodlatte gaveled in the hearing – 75 minutes after the 10 a.m. ET scheduled start.
For the first hour, Republicans stayed in their backroom debating a number of matters, while Democrats waited for them to emerge. Then, Nadler and the other Democrats walked out of the hearing room to protest the delay.
But once Goodlatte emerged and a quorum was officially established, the markup — and the arguments — began.
Goodlatte kicked off the hearing by stating that he supported the resolution even if he didn’t think it was wholly needed. “While I do not believe this is completely necessary to achieve compliance with our subpoena, I also believe that by highlighting the continued need of the Department of Justice to produce the documents requested in the subpoena, it may help our ongoing efforts,” he said.
As Jordan brought up his amendment, Goodlatte stepped out of the hearing room, and the acting chairman ruled Jordan’s amendment out of order for procedural reasons. Jordan demanded a vote to overrule the chair.
During the vote, Goodlatte watched from a hallway just off the dais, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, announced he could see Goodlatte but that the Virginia Republican had not yet voted. The chairman voted present.