Republicans just fired another shot in their crusade against top FBI officials

Ron Johnson. Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Ron Johnson is asking the Department of Justice to turn over communications related to 16 top current and former officials.
  • Those officials include former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, among others.
  • The letter represents the latest development in escalating Republican attempts to investigate what they characterise as bias and corruption within the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.

Sen. Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter Wednesday night to the deputy attorney general asking that the Department of Justice turn over communications and records related to 16 current and former FBI and Justice Department officials.

Among the officials Johnson named in the letter to Rod Rosenstein were former FBI Director James Comey, Comey’s former chief of staff James Rybicki, former bureau Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former general counsel James Baker, and FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Strzok was an investigator on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team before being ousted last July. He and Page ignited controversy later in 2017 when it was reported that he had been removed from the special counsel’s team after it emerged that he had exchanged politically charged text messages that were critical of President Donald Trump.

The president and his allies have weaponised the revelations to attempt to paint the Russia investigation as a politically motivated excursion meant to undermine his presidency and electoral win.

All 16 officials included in Johnson’s letter Wednesday were involved in the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the 2016 election in his favour.

In addition to requesting additional communications related to those current or former officials, Johnson also asked the Justice Department to hand over communications between Clinton and former President Barack Obama that took place while she was in the “territory of a sophisticated adversary,” per the letter.

More letters as the Russia investigations heat up

Thursday’s letter comes on the heels of another one Johnson sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray on January 20. At the time, the DOJ was in the process of turning over controversial text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page to congressional investigators and had just handed 384 pages of messages to the committee.

Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, said in a January 19 letter to Johnson that due to a technical glitch, the FBI’s system was not able to preserve messages between Strzok and Page that were sent between December 16, 2016 and May 17, 2017.

Johnson said in his January 20 letter to Wray that it was “concerning” that the bureau had not retained messages sent during that time period, adding that “it is apparent from other records that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page communicated frequently about the investigation.”

Eventually, the Justice Department inspector general announced that the department had recovered the missing texts.

As Mueller’s investigation heats up, Trump and his congressional and media allies have waged an increasingly intense campaign to investigate what they characterise as bias and corruption within the Justice Department and the FBI.

On Monday, McCabe was removed from the FBI amid an investigation into his handling of the Clinton email probe. It later emerged that the DOJ inspector general was interested, in particular, in why it took McCabe three weeks to act after being alerted close to the election to new emails that may have been pertinent to the investigation.

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release a controversial memo by chairman Devin Nunes purporting to show the Justice Department improperly surveilling a former Trump campaign associate after the 2016 election.

Tensions finally reached a boiling point Wednesday night, when the committee’s ranking member, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, revealed that Nunes sent an altered version of the memo – different than the version the committee voted on – to the White House. A White House official told CNN Thursday that Trump has now read the memo, which both Democrats and top intelligence officials have warned against releasing because of its alleged inaccuracies.