A third deadline has now passed for the FBI and Justice Department to give the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed documents related to the Trump dossier. And for a third time, the bureau has not produced the material.
The dossier is a collection of what former FBI Director James Comey called "salacious and unverified" allegations of collusion between Russia and Trump campaign figures in the 2016 campaign. The Russia allegations were compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, who was commissioned by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which is thought to have been paid for the work by wealthy supporters of Hillary Clinton. The FBI reportedly considered taking over the dossier project in the fall of 2016, when the campaign was at its height, leading Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to say the dossier matter raised "questions about the FBI's independence from politics."
Both Grassley and the House Intelligence Committee have been interested in learning if the FBI ever used the "salacious and unverified" dossier as a basis for requesting surveillance on anyone in the Trump circle. Those questions only intensified this week with reports that the FBI wiretapped Trump associate and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort during the transition period.
Four weeks ago, on Aug. 24, the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed the FBI and Justice Department, seeking all internal FBI reports "incorporating, relying on, or referring to" information provided by Steele, his sources, or Fusion GPS. The committee also asked for documents on any FBI or Justice "efforts to corroborate, validate, or evaluate" Steele's information. And the subpoena sought any surveillance applications that included any information or were based on any information, provided by Steele.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes originally set a Sept. 1 deadline for production of the dossier documents. The FBI did not comply. Nunes then extended the deadline to Sept. 14. The FBI did not comply. Then Nunes extended the deadline again, to Sept. 22. Now, again, the FBI has not complied.
It is not unusual for deadlines to be extended. It is not unusual for feet to be dragged. But at some point, there will have to be a resolution to this standoff. A congressional subpoena is not something a government agency can ignore forever.
But it seems likely that the dispute will eventually rise to a higher level. Nunes is a committee chairman, but he does not speak for the entire House. In addition, he has been weakened by Democratic accusations that he leaked classified information — a matter that seems stuck in the Ethics Committee. Given that, if Nunes is to prevail in the subpoena affair, it seems likely he would have to have the support of Speaker Paul Ryan. If the speaker stands behind Nunes' efforts, the subpoena will have more weight and be more difficult for the FBI and Justice to defy. If on the other hand, Ryan does not stand behind the chairman, the FBI and Justice might be emboldened to delay forever. (A spokesman for Ryan did not immediately answer phone and email inquiries.)
There's a lot at stake. Nunes is currently traveling in the Middle East, so it is not clear what the next step will be, or when it will happen. But so far, the FBI and the Justice Department do not appear to be in the mood to comply with the subpoena.