By Devlin Barrett / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department plans to brief senior lawmakers next week with additional details and documents about how the FBI investigated whether Trump campaign advisers had suspicious ties to Russia — a concession to Republican demands for more information about the politically charged probe.
Justice Department officials made the new offer amid ongoing political battles over how the FBI handled the early days of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Those fights intensified last month after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., issued a subpoena demanding documents about a confidential FBI source, Stefan A. Halper, who had aided that probe and repeatedly reached out to Trump advisers in 2016. President Donald Trump has accused the FBI of “spying” on his campaign.
In late May, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed senior members of both parties about how the FBI pursued the case. The Justice Department will give those lawmakers a follow-up briefing next week, partly to answer questions raised by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
A senior Justice Department official said the briefing will allow lawmakers “to review certain supporting documents that were made available during the prior briefing.” Officials “are prepared to brief members on certain questions specifically raised by the speaker and other members. The department and FBI will also provide the documents that were available for review but not inspected by the members at the previous briefing, along with some additional material,” the official said.
The briefing will be for the Gang of Eight — the senior Democrat and Republican in the Senate and House, as well as the senior members of each party on their respective intelligence committees.
Ryan said Wednesday that so far he agrees with the assessment that the FBI behaved appropriately, but he also signaled that he wants to see more information from the Justice Department.
Ryan described as accurate remarks made by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who attended the earlier briefing and told Fox News that “the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do” in investigating the allegations.
Ryan said he agreed with that initial assessment but added: “We have some more digging to do. We’re still waiting for some more document requests… . We still have some unanswered questions.”
The Justice Department’s decision to provide multiple briefings on the subject is a significant departure from its initial stance after receiving Nunes’s subpoena. Then, officials said they could not provide the requested information because the potential leak of such information could endanger lives and intelligence work.
The senior Justice Department official said the agency believes it can provide information “directly responsive to congressional inquiries in a manner that is consistent with its national security and law enforcement responsibilities, and is pleased to do so.”
Democrats have voiced concerns that such briefings could allow the president’s legal team to get access to sensitive details of the investigation. On Tuesday, Democratic members of the Gang of Eight sent a letter to the FBI and Justice Department seeking assurances that “outside of an appropriate judicial proceeding,” neither the president nor members of his staff or legal team would be briefed on classified information about the FBI’s source.