The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is pushing to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress this week for not complying with a subpoena.
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting classified information for his committee’s investigation into abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and counterintelligence inquiries, including the targeting of Americans such as former Trump campaign official Carter Page, but the letter was ignored.
After attempting to subpoena the classified information last week, Mr. Nunes discovered that the Justice Department will not comply.
“We have to move quickly to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt, and that’s what I want to press for this week,” Mr. Nunes told Fox News on Sunday.
The next step will be going to court to try to enforce the committee’s subpoena.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the DOJ sent a letter to Mr. Nunes on Thursday, which was the deadline for his subpoena.
The letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd, said the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the White House and the FBI had evaluated the committee’s request and that the Justice Department determined that it couldn’t comply with a request for information about a specific individual.
The letter also said the Justice Department is open to other ways to accommodate the committee’s inquiry.
“Disclosure of responsive information to such requests can risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities,” the letter read.
Mr. Nunes said he refuses to accept the Justice Department’s contention that handing over the information would harm national security.
“How many times have we heard that argument?” Mr. Nunes said. “This just can’t continue where we don’t get information in a timely manner.”
Doug Andres, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, told The Washington Times that Mr. Nunes hadn’t discussed with the speaker his push to hold Mr. Sessions in contempt.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, Texas Republican, sounded hesitant about such a move.
Mr. Ratcliffe told Fox News that he was unsure about the exact relation of the subpoena and that members of Congress needed more information.
“We all need to have that information before we would go to that extraordinary measure of holding an attorney general in contempt of Congress,” he said.
The president has been critical of his own Justice Department in the past. He expressed disappointment that Mr. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and slow-walked a review of the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Earlier this week, he sided with Republican lawmakers in their request to have Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hand over documents relating to the special counsel’s investigation.
“A Rigged System - They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal “justice?” At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!” Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Congress voted to hold former Internal Revenue Service executive Lois G. Lerner in contempt in 2014 after targeting conservative tea party groups and held Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt in 2012 for not complying with the investigation into the Obama administration’s Operation Fast and Furious, which involved gun trafficking across the border in the hope of tracking Mexican drug cartels.
More than 1,000 guns went missing in the operation, but two were found at the scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
President Obama exerted executive privilege over some of the communications regarding Operation Fast and Furious, and Congress believed his attorney general was trying to cover up the administration’s actions.
More than a dozen Democrats joined Republican lawmakers in the largely symbolic vote against Mr. Holder, which was the first time a sitting attorney general had been held in contempt of Congress.
Mr. Obama and his Justice Department declined to prosecute Mr. Holder.