Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have secretly met for weeks in the Capitol to "build a case" that the Justice Department and FBI mishandled a dossier of information on alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia, Politico reported.
The side committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), hopes to uncover "corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement." They have consulted with the House's general counsel, but have not told Democrats what they are doing, according to Politico. The group expects to release a report detailing their concerns in early 2018.
Democrats are calling it an attempt to discredit Robert Mueller, the former FBI director serving as special counsel for the Trump-Russia investigation.
"To Democrats, the GOP offensive is an attempt to distract from the investigation of Trump associates by Mueller, who has already indicted Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and secured a guilty plea from his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. There are indications he's investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, whose exit led to Mueller taking over the Russia probe."
How did it get to this point?
- FBI Director James Comey told Trump a dossier was collected on Trump's alleged Russian ties. Trump has called the allegations "fiction." Republicans on Capitol Hill also say the information is not credible. Trump fired Comey in May.
- According to published reports, the Democratic National Committee paid for the dossier, which was prepared in 2016 by "a former MI6 British intelligence operative." The report detailed alleged links between Trump, his campaign, and Russia. Marc Elias, an attorney with the Clinton campaign and the DNC, hired a Washington investigative firm, Fusion GPS to conduct the research. Fusion then hired Christopher Steele, the ex-British intelligence agent, to piece together the alleged Trump-Russia connection.
- Republicans allege that the FBI, Department of Justice, and Mueller’s team are biased. They've pointed out that Mueller’s attorneys gave donations to Democrats. They have also noted that two senior FBI officials, formerly assigned to the special counsel's office, bashed Trump in a series of text messages. The text messages were revealed by the Department of Justice inspector general.
When is this expected to end?
On Monday, Trump predicted he would soon be exonerated by Mueller's investigation. But the investigation could continue into late 2018, Vanity Fair reported. That's partly because Flynn and former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, who both pleaded guilty to minor charges, have said they are willing to cooperate with the FBI and supply information.
“I think it’s possible [that during the meeting] Mueller’s team could give them an idea of how much longer they anticipate their investigation will last,” Peter Zeidenberg, a former deputy special counsel, told The Washington Post. “I would be shocked if they have a timeline anything similar to what we’ve heard coming from the White House.”
What are people saying?
Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) said on Twitter that he has asked the intelligence committee to continue investigating the alleged "Russian interference in our democracy."
The Project on Government Oversight tweeted that Republicans should not conduct a secret investigation that excludes Democrats. POGO describes itself as a non-partisan "investigative organization with an expertise for working with sources inside the government and whistle-blowers to document evidence of corruption, waste, fraud, or abuse." POGO was founded in 1981.