Last June, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham joined Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley to ask the Justice Department to turn over documents showing whether the FBI used the Trump dossier as a basis to secure warrants to spy on Americans. Noting "media reports claiming the FBI submitted and received approval of a [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application in the investigation that was based on the political opposition research dossier," Graham and Grassley asked to inspect all warrant applications related to the broadly-defined Trump-Russia affair.
The Justice Department was not forthcoming, to say the least. But with an assist from the aggressive efforts of House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, the Justice Department was finally persuaded/cajoled/forced to reveal at least some of the requested information.
In a Fox News interview Friday night, Graham strongly suggested there is something untoward in the dossier material. Noting that special counsel Robert Mueller is not investigating the dossier – "That's not part of his charter" – Graham said he, Graham, has finally gotten a look at the origins and use of the document:
I've spent some time in the last couple of days, after a lot of fighting with the Department of Justice, to get the background on the dossier, and here's what I can tell your viewers: I'm very disturbed about what the Department of Justice did with this dossier, and we need a special counsel to look into that, because that's not in Mueller's charter. And what I saw, and what I've gathered in the last couple of days, bothers me a lot, and I'd like somebody outside DOJ to look into how this dossier was handled and what they did with it.
Host Brian Kilmeade asked Graham, "So, you've found out something you did not know?
"Yes," Graham answered.
Kilmeade asked whether Graham was disturbed by the contents of the dossier or how the Justice Department used it in the Trump-Russia investigation.
"I've been a lawyer most of my life, a prosecutor, and a defense attorney," Graham began. He continued:
And the one thing I can say, every prosecutor has a duty to the court to disclose things that are relevant to the request. So any time a document is used to go to court, for legal reasons, I think the Department of Justice owes it to the court to be up-and-up about exactly what this document is about, who paid for it, who's involved, what their motives might be. And I can just say this: After having looked at the history of the dossier, and how it was used by the Department of Justice, I'm really very concerned, and this cannot be the new normal.
What, precisely, did Graham mean? A well-informed source would not explain beyond Graham's words, and a Justice Department source did not respond to a request for comment.
But by discussing when "a document is used to go to court," Graham seemed to refer to the dossier and the FISA court. And he seemed to suggest that, if the FBI used revelations from the dossier to secure a warrant to spy on Americans, it was not fully transparent about the source of those revelations, which was an opposition-research project funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign. FBI and Justice Department officials have told Congress they have not been able to verify the dossier's substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Further, Graham found the dossier affair serious enough to warrant an entirely new investigation. It's not in Mueller's charter, Graham said. And Graham does not appear to trust the Justice Department to investigate itself on this particular issue.
But there has been serious resistance to the idea of another special counsel in the Trump-Russia matter. Such investigations are inevitably subject to mission creep and can go on seemingly forever. It's unclear whether anything would be done in response to Graham's call.
In any event, the efforts pushed by Nunes and the Senate show that Congress, if it is aggressive, can investigate a matter like this. And there are still several more aggressive actions Congress can pursue, if it wants to uncover the full extent of the Trump dossier matter.