GOP senators want invite to Justice Department meeting on classified information

Three senators on the Judiciary Committee are trying to get an invite to Thursday's meeting with House Intelligence C...

Posted: May 23, 2018 5:50 PM
Updated: May 23, 2018 5:50 PM

Three senators on the Judiciary Committee are trying to get an invite to Thursday's meeting with House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy about documents related to a classified intelligence source and the Russia investigation.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn sent a letter Tuesday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asking to also attend a meeting to receive the same information as their House counterparts.

"On Sunday, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein stated, 'If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.' We agree," the senators wrote. "We write to express our interest in attending such a meeting and in support of providing Congress with documents necessary to conduct oversight of these issues."

Kelly arranged the Thursday meeting for Nunes and Gowdy with FBI Director Chris Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan, in an effort to end the standoff between the Republican lawmakers and the Justice Department.

Nunes issued a subpoena for documents related to the confidential source, but the Justice Department has said that revealing the information could put lives at risk.

The news about a confidential source speaking with members of President Donald Trump's team during the campaign, however, has fueled accusations from Trump and others that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, although US officials have told CNN the confidential source was not planted inside the campaign to provide information.

On Wednesday, Grassley said he would go to the meeting if he was invited.

"If I'm invited, I'll go, and if I don't, I'll be satisfied that the information ... ought to be made public," Grassley said. "What they need to know and what can be made public ought to be made public, but obviously we're not going to make public anything that violates national security."

The upcoming meeting has been a source of tension on Capitol Hill after Democrats, such as House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff of California, were not invited to join their Republican counterparts at Thursday's meeting.

"It's inconceivable that the White House could expect that they can brief only Republicans on anything related to the Russia investigation. That can't happen," Schiff told CNN.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he and Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, previously declined a similar briefing for information about the confidential source. Warner argued that the disclosure of such classified information to Congress should be restricted to the "Gang of Eight" - the chairmen and top Democrats on the two Intelligence Committees and the four House and Senate party leaders.

"If this kind of discussion is going to take place, we have a process - it's called the Gang of Eight," Warner said Wednesday. "My hope is that any such briefing needs to bipartisan, and my hope and prayer is that the FBI or the Department of Justice would not in any way be forced to reveal confidential information that would go against 75 years of practice."

Burr has declined comment on the confidential source and the upcoming meeting with House Republicans.

Asked Wednesday why he wanted to be briefed on the confidential source documents when Burr had declined, Cornyn said: "Oversight."

Both Grassley, on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Nunes, on the House Intelligence Committee, have pursued investigations that have been critical of the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia written by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. They have also focused on the start of the Trump-Russia investigation in July 2016, including the latest request for documents on the confidential intelligence source.

But Grassley does not have the same subpoena power as Nunes, as the Senate Judiciary Committee requires the consent of top Democrat on the panel, Dianne Feinstein of California, to issue subpoenas.

That hasn't necessarily stopped Grassley from getting the same information, however. In a separate letter sent to Rosenstein on Monday, Grassley reminded Rosenstein that he had "personally assured me that the Senate Judiciary Committee would receive access to the same information provided to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence."

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