WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has directed his staff to prepare a contempt of Congress resolution against FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for "hiding" a top agent's alleged political bias against President Trump.
Nunes is taking the action in response to the removal of FBI agent Peter Strzok from special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. His dismissal came after Justice Department investigators discovered text messages that appeared to criticize Trump.
Nunes, R-Calif., said his committee would vote on the contempt resolution later this month unless Wray and Rosenstein provide all the information the committee is seeking by the close of business Monday.
Any contempt resolution would have to be approved by the full House. If the House approved it, they would send a contempt citation to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who would then decide whether to prosecute.
Strzok, a top counter-intelligence agent who also helped run the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, was abruptly reassigned this summer to the bureau’s human resources office. His transfer came after the Department of Justice’s inspector general discovered communications involving him and another FBI official, Lisa Page, who also had been previously assigned to Mueller's team.
Clinton was cleared of wrongdoing in the FBI's investigation of her email practices.
Nunes said the committee had repeatedly sought information about Strzok's reassignment without answers.
"By hiding from Congress, and from the American people, documented political bias by a key FBI head investigator for both the Russia collusion probe and the Clinton email investigation, the FBI and DOJ engaged in a willful attempt to thwart Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibility," Nunes said in a statement released over the weekend.
"This is part of a months-long pattern by the DOJ and FBI of stonewalling and obstructing this Committee’s oversight work, particularly oversight of their use of the Steele dossier," Nunes said. "At this point, these agencies should be investigating themselves."
The Steele dossier is a compilation of documents by former British spy Christopher Steele that contains allegations, some of them salacious, about Trump's ties to Russia. The dossier was compiled for Fusion GPS, a firm that conducted opposition research on Trump on behalf of Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, and the Democratic Party. Nunes has sought to find out how much the FBI relied on the dossier for its Russia investigation.
The Justice Department said it disagrees with Nunes' characterization that top officials have been uncooperative with the committee. And the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said Nunes is just trying to distract from the committee's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
"We disagree with the Chairman's characterization and will continue to work with congressional committees to provide the information they request consistent with our national security responsibilities," the Justice Department said in a statement. "The Department has already provided members of (the House Intelligence Committee) and House leadership with several hundred pages of classified documents and multiple briefings — including for example clear answers as to whether any FBI payments were made to a source in question related to the dossier."
The Justice Department has cleared Strzok and Deputy FBI Director George McCabe, to testify before the committee, the statement said.
"I am concerned...that our chairman is willing to use the subpoena and contempt power of the House, not to determine how the Russians interfered in our election or whether the President obstructed justice, but only to distract from the core of our investigation," Schiff said in a statement.
Nunes is an ally of Trump and served on the presidential transition team. He announced last spring that he was temporarily stepping aside from the committee's Russia probe after the House Ethics Committee began an investigation into whether Nunes mishandled classified information.
Nunes appointed Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, to lead the investigation. However, Nunes has continued to issue subpoenas for information and testimony, prompting outcries from Democrats that Nunes is trying to sabotage the investigation.
Trump and his allies have jumped on the news about Strzok to try to discredit special counsel Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which includes looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and possible obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates.
On Friday, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump took office. Prosecutors charged that Flynn falsely told FBI agents that he did not ask Kislyak to delay a vote on a pending United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israeli settlements.
Flynn was the fourth former Trump aide to face criminal charges in special counsel Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a "witch hunt" and tweeted Sunday that, with the disclosures about Strzok, "Now it all starts to make sense!"
Schiff said there also were reports about anti-Clinton bias among FBI agents during the agency's investigation into the former secretary of state's use of a private email server.
"During the Clinton investigation, there were several public reports that there was a strong anti-Clinton bias among FBI agents," Schiff said. "The DOJ Inspector General is properly investigating the handling of the investigation, including the current allegation of bias by this agent (Strzok) in the other direction."
"FBI agents, like all Americans, are entitled to have political views, but they must not let those views affect the performance of their responsibilities in any way," Schiff said.