FBI, CIA continue to stonewall on Russia probe, key Senate chairmen say

Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have sent new letters to FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel demanding outstanding material relating to government abuses in the Trump-Russia probe.

Updated: October 8, 2020 - 9:15am

Two key Senate committee chairmen are still having trouble prying information about the government's improper actions in the Trump-Russia probe from the FBI and the CIA.

The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and the head of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), have sent new letters to FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel demanding the outstanding material.

"We are concerned that your agency has thus far failed to respond in full to our oversight requests," they write in the new letter to Haspel sent Wednesday. "Further delay is unacceptable."

The FBI failed to meet the latest deadline Tuesday to turn over long-subpoenaed documents in the controversy. The senators' letter to Wray outlines their longstanding document requests that continue to go unfulfilled, including for alarming material related to an intelligence report generated during the 2016 campaign indicating the Hillary Clinton campaign was planning to stir up a scandal about her rival, Donald Trump, linking him to Russia. 

"On April 16 we requested all intelligence records, foreign or domestic, received or reviewed by the Crossfire Hurricane team, as well as all FBI records about those intelligence products. In response, the FBI directed us to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but has not produced any other records responsive to that request," reads the letter to Wray. Crossfire Hurricane is the name given to the Trump-Russia probe. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and others ultimately concluded there was no evidence Trump, his campaign, or any Americans, colluded with Russia.

The letter continues: "In a Sept. 29 letter, DNI Ratcliffe identified a different intelligence report from late July 2016 … [relating to] … candidate Hillary Clinton 'approv[ing] a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against candidate Donald Trump by tying him to [Russian President] Putin and the Russians' hack of the [DNC],' which ultimately resulted in a September 7, 2016, investigative referral from the intelligence community to the FBI."

The senators' letter in April 2020, as well as a committee subpoena, required the FBI to turn over "all information and records demonstrating what, if anything, the FBI did with these and other intelligence reporting received or made available to the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane team."

Sens. Johnson and Grassley have repeatedly requested text messages of different individuals involved in the discredited probe, which is now under investigation by a U.S. attorney. But they say they only received a few dozen messages.

Separately, other text messages that had not been turned over to the committee were made public.

The letter also says the FBI made a set of text messages belonging to ex-FBI official Andrew McCabe available only in a monitored "reading room," thereby prohibiting members of Congress and staff from making copies or taking the messages for review, even though these messages were required to be turned over directly under subpoena.

"Reading rooms" have been used by federal agencies in the past decade to avoid turning over documents directly to Congress. Typically, members and staff are invited to come to a room during specified hours and read material while being monitored by agency officials.  

"The public interest in these records is significant, and they have remained hidden for too long," said the letter.
Johnson and Grassley asked for the outstanding material by Tues. Oct. 6, but say the FBI did not produce it.

Meanwhile, in a letter dated Oct. 7, they take Haspel to task for failure to produce a single document they asked for on July 28. "Both of us ... are becoming increasingly disappointed by the CIA's continued inability to timely respond to our legitimate oversight requests," they write. "Moreover, your agency has ignored multiple requests to schedule a phone call to discuss our oversight letter ... The information that has already been made public reveals what might be the most outrageous abuse of power in U.S. history against a presidential candidate and sitting president. Unfortunately, many of the puzzle pieces remain hidden, and some of that information rests within your agency."

The senators tell Haspel that the material should be turned over by tomorrow (Oct. 9).

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