A Moment of Contempt
The House Intelligence Committee has set a deadline of Wednesday for the Department of Justice and FBI to turn over documents related to the Christopher Steele dossier purporting to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. If they fail to comply, Speaker Paul Ryan will need to back up Congress’s institutional prerogatives and hold the individuals responsible to contempt proceedings and possible impeachment.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray have had the subpoenas since Aug. 24, but they have responded with excuses, delays and misdirection. The Justice Department has refused to provide Congress with the most basic documents demanded under the subpoenas. These include reports detailing the FBI’s interactions with sources such as Mr. Steele, who was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was funded by associates of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Justice also refuses to make available crucial witnesses, including FBI agent Peter Strzok (a lead investigator in the Trump-Russia probe), former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr (whose wife worked for Fusion GPS) and FBI attorney James Baker (former FBI Director Jim Comey’s right-hand man). Justice is also still sitting on months of anti-Trump text messages between Mr. Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
This isn’t acceptable, and neither Justice nor the FBI has offered a valid reason for their resistance. Senior Intelligence Committee members and staff are cleared to read classified information, and Congress has the constitutional authority to oversee the executive branch whose offices it funds. The excuse that such requests interfere with a Justice Department Inspector General probe wouldn’t pass a middle-grade separation-of-powers exam.
A contempt brawl would not be fun, but Congress has already abandoned too much power to the executive. Mr. Ryan risks turning oversight into a power without enforcement ability. A Republican Congress holding Republican office-holders responsible for flouting subpoenas would send a useful signal across the government. And it might give President Trump or White House Counsel Don McGahn new incentive to intervene with Justice and order compliance.
Appeared in the January 3, 2018, print edition.