Only two months after promising that he would not allow Congress to interfere in the ongoing Russia investigation, House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday reportedly backed colleague Devin Nunes in his attempts to subpoena the FBI for documents related to the matter.
According to a CNN report, Ryan met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray this week to discuss Nunes — chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — and his repeated requests to view documents connected to the infamous Steele Dossier, which is comprised of myriad damning and salacious allegations against President Trump, some of them unverified. Sources who spoke to the outlet said that the meeting was “initiated at Rosenstein’s request” and was intended to “gauge where they stood with the House speaker in light of the looming potential contempt of Congress showdown,” which centers on the Justice Department’s hesitance at releasing certain classified documents to committee members.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Ryan reportedly backed Nunes. He declined to side with Rosenstein and Wray, who had asked that Nunes “narrow the scope of [his] document request,” according to Politico.
The Justice Department had previously agreed to allow Nunes, Ryan, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi access to certain classified documents in October. Neither Ryan nor Nunes attended that viewing; according to Fox News, two Republican and two Democratic staffers did.
Ryan was reportedly unmoved by the Justice Department officials’ arguments on Wednesday, and it became increasingly clear that the two men “wouldn’t have his support if they proceeded to resist Nunes’ remaining highly classified requests.”
A spokesperson for the speaker’s office told CNN that Ryan “always expects the administration to comply with the House’s oversight requests,” but did not elaborate further.
The move is a departure from Ryan’s earlier promises not to let Congress interfere in the ongoing Russia investigation.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday on November 5, asked whether he would allow the Mueller investigation to be “curbed or stopped,” Ryan responded,
I’ve said all along: we need to let these career professionals do their jobs, see it through. So no, I don’t think [Special Counsel Mueller] should be stepping down, and I don’t think he should be fired. The president has made clear he’s not going to be doing that.
— Pat Ward (@WardDPatrick) November 5, 2017
He added, “We’re not going to interfere with his investigation. The investigation will take its course, and we will let it take its course.”
Although CNN’s sources have claimed that Wednesday’s talks “did not involve details of the separate Russia investigation” led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, attempting to discredit the Steele dossier is one of many methods conservatives in Congress have used to try and undermine Mueller’s efforts, and the facts of each separate probe are inextricably linked.
The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has previously pressured Fusion GPS — the research firm that produced the Trump dossier — to reveal its financial records, which they claim could prove it was part of a Democratic effort to discredit the president and the faulty basis for the Russia investigation itself. Fusion GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch have insisted that the dossier did not trigger Mueller’s investigation, but that it simply corroborated information the Justice Department already had.
The dossier is not the only basis for Mueller’s ongoing investigation. But some of its claims — specifically alleged “hotel deals and land deals” between Trump and members of the Kremlin, according to The Guardian’s Luke Harding — have partially informed the special counsel’s efforts.
As CNN reported this week, the FBI has also decided to allow Intelligence Committee members to interview several individuals with ties to both Fusion GPS and Mueller’s team, including FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and FBI Attorney Lisa Page. A series of private text messages between the two became a source of scrutiny late last year after Republicans claimed it showed inherent bias against Trump among Mueller’s team. Strzok and Page are no longer part of the Russia investigation and were dismissed from the probe after their messages — sent during the 2016 election, long before Mueller’s investigation ever began — were first discovered last summer.
Nunes himself has become a subject of criticism from Democrats who believe the Intelligence Committee chairman is “doing the work of the White House.”
“It’s more of the same problem we saw early in the investigation, when the chairman had difficulty removing himself from his role during the campaign of being a proxy for the White House,” ranking Democrat Schiff said during an interview with MSNBC in December.
Schiff was referring to Nunes’ earlier decision to step away from the committee’s Russia inquiry, following an ethics investigation into his decision to share information with the White House before briefing his colleagues in April.
Nunes and his fellow Republicans were also criticized recently for reportedly holding secret meetings on the Steele dossier for weeks, without telling their Democratic colleagues.
Speaker Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated to clarify the Justice Department’s reason for meeting Speaker Ryan (to ask that Nunes narrow the scope of his document request).