House intelligence committee Republicans have a new, secretive investigation into the FBI—and they’re using it to justify freezing out the bureau from the release of a memo accusing it of abusing its power, The Daily Beast has learned.
The memo mentions Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as Andrew McCabe and James Comey—formerly the FBI’s two most powerful officials—as The Daily Beast reported last week. Monday night, committee Republicans voted against giving the FBI more of a voice on the memo’s release, citing their own investigation into the bureau.
During the meeting Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois moved to give the FBI more time to discuss the memo’s allegations with the committee—as well as any concerns about its release—before making the memo public, according to Quigley and Rep. Jim Himes, a top committee Democrat. Republicans blocked the motion. Another source familiar with the meeting shared the same account.
When a Democrat on the committee asked why Republicans opposed granting the FBI this courtesy, Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican chairman and a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, gave an answer some found surprising, Himes told The Daily Beast. Nunes said he opposed giving the FBI more time to discuss the memo with the committee because the FBI itself, as well as the Justice Department, is under investigation, according to all three sources.
“The point here is not a better work product,” Himes told The Daily Beast. “The point here is sand in the gears.”
“The chairman’s role has shifted from being head of the committee to being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House to do their bidding,” Quigley told The Daily Beast.
A spokesperson for Nunes did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The investigation Nunes described is highly controversial. The committee’s rules say its chairman must consult with its ranking member before launching an investigation. But Ranking Member Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters after the committee meeting Nunes didn’t do so before announcing the committee’s new probe into the FBI.
Until this past weekend, Nunes and his team wouldn’t let anyone at the FBI read the memo, even though it was based on the FBI’s own intelligence. The Daily Beast reported earlier on Monday that the committee and the FBI had been in last-minute negotiations to reach an agreement to give bureau officials greater visibility into the memo. Schiff told reporters after the meeting that FBI Director Christopher Wray asked him for more time to discuss the memo with the committee before its release.
“He expressed his strong interest in being able to brief our committee prior to any release of these materials, about concerns that the bureau and the department have,” Schiff told reporters. “I relayed that interest by the director of the FBI, an appointee of President Trump, to this committee, but that was unavailing; they were not willing to meet with the director of the FBI to hear the bureau’s concerns or department’s concerns.”
The committee voted along party lines to release the memo anyway, and without granting Wray’s request.
The scope, goal, and timetable of the new committee inquiry into the FBI and Justice Department are not clear. On Tuesday morning, Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican in charge of the committee’s Russia probe, indicated to CNN that he did not know the probe’s scope, and suggested it might simply be routine oversight of the FBI. A representative for Conaway did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the FBI or the Justice Department.
Schiff went on to say that he had conveyed Wray’s concerns about the Nunes memo to his Republican counterparts but was rebuffed.
But there are indications that the right-wing fervor around the Nunes memo has unnerved senior Republicans on the committee.
An NPR reporter asked Conaway on Tuesday about some Republicans’ claims that the memo will reveal crimes “worse than Watergate.”
“I know, and I wish they wouldn’t [say that],” Conaway replied. “Let’s be calm about this.”