During a House Intelligence Committee meeting Monday night, Chairman Devin Nunes defended his announcement of an investigation into the Department of Justice and FBI, saying it was not news.
The California Republican told Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., during a back-and-forth exchange that the two agencies have “been under investigation by this committee for many, many months for FISA abuse and other matters.”
“The investigation continues,” Nunes said, adding that he does not think the Justice Department or FBI should be part of a briefing on the classified memo allegedly detailing surveillance abuses by the two because House Intelligence members "are not going to be briefed by the people that are under investigation by this committee.”
The hotly contested four-page memo reportedly details abuses of the federal surveillance court process under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by top officials at the FBI and Justice Department, possibly against associates involved in the Trump campaign. It is set to be made public by week's end, despite objections from the FBI and Justice Department, if President Trump does not block its release.
Quigley then disputed that the Republican majority ever consulted with the Democratic minority about the investigations.
“We have issued several subpoenas that were opposed by the minority. … So we have publicly stated numerous times that we have concerns about FISA,” Nunes said, before being cut off by Quigley, who objected, "There was no formal set sit-down.”
“Let me ask you one more question,” Quigley said.
Nunes then replied: “I remind that this committee has many agencies under investigation and those investigations are ongoing, just as the minority might have investigations that are ongoing.”
Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters Monday night after the committee's meeting that the Democratic minority was informed of the investigations Monday night “for the first time.”
According to committee rules, the majority has to consult with the minority before opening an investigation and that it has to then be approved.
Schiff said Monday night there was no such consultation.
“We learned about that for the first time here today,” Schiff said. “Now it has been publicly reported from time to time that there was a subset of the majority working on some kind of an investigation or inquiry into the Department of Justice and FBI, but apparently [Nunes] made it formal today, according to the majority, the FBI’s under investigation and so is the Department of Justice.”
According to the transcript, Nunes told Quigley that he has “always had my strong support to investigate, review anything under our jurisdiction.”
Quigley then read committee rules about consultation and told him he is “not sure when” that consultation and approval happened.
Later on Monday night, according to the transcript, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., also questioned Nunes about the investigation.
“I don’t accept the premise that the DOJ and the FBI are under investigation,” he said. “I think they’re under oversight and they are under continuous oversight.”
Swalwell said that because of this logic, neither the Justice Department nor FBI could ever “be able to be in a position to review something we wanted to declassify because they are always under oversight.”
“I understand the parameters of our investigation, but I do not believe that limits their ability to review highly sensitive materials,” Swalwell said, before offering the idea that a “third party” review the memo if the Justice Department and FBI cannot.
Schiff later said that this is the first he’s hearing of the investigations, and that “it is hard for me to escape the conclusion that this is anything but doing the bidding of the White House."
According to a spokesperson for Nunes, the lawmaker made the investigation public “months ago” in a Fox News interview.
The spokesperson also noted that the committee-issued subpoenas to the Justice Department and FBI in August for documents related to the controversial "Trump dossier" linking Trump to Russia were a “strong sign” of the inquiry into the Justice Department and FBI.
Politico reported in December a small group of GOP members on the committee had been meeting secretly to investigate the Justice Department and FBI’s handling of the dossier and hoped to release a detailed report of their findings in early 2018.