Chaffetz subpoenas FBI for full Clinton email probe file
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz publicly subpoenaed the FBI’s full case file in the Hillary Clinton email investigation Monday, delivering the document demand to a senior FBI official during a contentious hearing where Democrats accused Republicans of mounting a partisan attack on Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“It’s ‘trust, but verify’ is how it works,” Chaffetz told FBI acting legislative affairs chief Jason Herring. “You don’t get to decide what I get to see. I get to see it all.”
“You don’t get to decide what I get to see. I get to see it all,” Chaffetz told FBI acting legislative affairs chief Jason Herring. | Getty
After Herring said he could not promise to deliver all the investigative summaries—known as 302s—in an unedited form, Chaffetz sent the subpoena down from the dais to the witness table where the FBI official sat with colleagues from six other agencies.
“I’ve signed this subpoena. We want all the 302s….and you are hereby served,” Chaffetz said.
The chairman also complained that the FBI was trying to decide for itself what was relevant to the committee’s probe.
“That’s the way a banana republic acts, not the way the United States of America acts,” he said. “I don’t expect to have to issue a subpoena to see unclassified information.”
Despite the drama at the hearing, the dispute is a nuanced one, with the oversight committee now in possession of some of the interview summaries, but objecting strongly to the deletion of “personally identifiable information” from the FBI reports provided to the committee.
One of the senior Democrats on the panel, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, noted that the obstacle to Chaffetz seeing classified records related to the probe is not the FBI but with the House Intelligence Committee not releasing that information to the oversight panel chairman.
Maloney noted that Chaffetz has asked House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes for access to the classified records, but no vote on that request has been taken or scheduled.
“These documents are not being withheld from the chairman because of anything these witnesses have done.They are being withheld by the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee,” Maloney said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley voiced a similar complaint Monday, saying his panel—which has primary oversight responsibility over the Justice Department and the FBI—was unable to access even the unclassified information the FBI turned over to the Senate because of restrictions the FBI placed on the records.
“The FBI is trying to have it both ways,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “At the same time it talks about unprecedented transparency, it’s placing unprecedented hurdles in the way of Congressional oversight of unclassified law enforcement matters. It turned over documents, but with strings attached.”
Grassley said he’s objected to the limits, complaining both to the FBI and within the Senate. “The Senate should not allow its controls on classified material to be manipulated to hide embarrassing material from public scrutiny, even when that material is unclassified,” the Judiciary Chairman and Iowa Republican said.
During the House hearing’s more substantive exchanges, Herring said FBI Director James Comey was committed to giving Congress as much information as could “responsibly” be released about the probe.
Herring also defended the deletion of personal information from reports given to Congress, saying that releasing sensitive information from witnesses could lead some people to refuse to cooperate with the FBI in the future.
“It is critical for us as FBI agents to obtain cooperation from members of the public….Witnesses who speak with us need to have confidence that they can talk to the FBI without the risk of undue exposure,” the veteran FBI agent said. “I wouldn’t want there to be a chilling effect for other people going forward.”
However, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) noted that 302s are routinely circulated outside the FBI, including to the defense in criminal cases.
Referring to the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Gowdy thundered: “Mr. Cummings used to be a defense attorney. He got to see all your 302s…Probation officers get to see all your 302s. Why can’t Congress?”
Herring replied that the panel had some of the documents and would be getting more as they’re processed under the Freedom of Information Act. “The remainder of the 302s will come out through the FOIA process,” he said.
That response seemed to anger Gowdy and GOP members of the committee.
“Since when did Congress have to go through FOIA to obtain 302s?” Gowdy asked.
The FBI representative said he had reached out to Chaffetz’s staff to propose a compromise on the information about people in the records, but even that effort drew heat from the panel, as Cummings objected that his staff hadn’t been consulted.
Democrats devoted much of their time at Monday’s hearing to accusations that the GOP was using the session to harangue Clinton for purely political reasons.
“We are not a law enforcement agency. We are not a trial agency,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said, charging that his GOP colleagues were looking to second-guess FBI Director James Comey’s conclusion that no charges should be brought in the Clinton email probe.
“This is terrible….This is a miscarriage of justice,” Lynch said. “This is a sad day in the history of this committee. This is a sad, god-damned day.”
Democrats also faulted Chaffetz for convening the hearing in public Monday, when the witnesses were initially told they were being summoned to a closed, classified session.
“Not only is it unfair, it risks the inadvertent disclosure of classified information,” Cummings said, noting that the committee held another “emergency” hearing on an aspect of the email issue Thursday and plans another Tuesday. “As far as I can tell the only emergency that the election is less than 2 months away….I guess this is what happens when you try to schedule an attack against Hillary Clinton for every day of the week.”
Chaffetz said the panel’s rules require that the committee convene in public before going into closed session. He also said the committee tried to gather officials from various relevant agencies for a closed-door briefing last week, but they did not show up.
During the public hearing, the chairman also defended his committee’s timing. He said the fact the series of hearings are being held now is attributable to Clinton’s decision to use a private email server to handle classified information and to return her records to State nearly two years after she left office.
“I didn’t pick this timeline Hillary Clinton picked this timeline,” Chaffetz said. “I don’t care about the election and what time this is. We’re going to keep going at this. It is far far too important.”
After more than two hours of public back-and-forth Monday evening, the committee adjourned after 8 p.m. with plans to gather in a secure space in the House Visitor Center for a closed session.
However, a committee source said late Monday that the much-discussed closed session was never convened, reportedly because the room had not been properly swept for the classified exchange.
A spokeswoman for the oversight panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what transpired with the planned closed session.