WASHINGTON ― One of President Donald Trump’s greatest frustrations during his first year in office has been his hand-picked attorney general recusing himself from a Justice Department investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government.
Despite his supposed penchant for firing people, Trump has been unable to bring himself to give Jeff Sessions the boot. But now, with the FBI unwilling to tell Congress what evidence it used to obtain a special warrant to spy on a Trump campaign official, two of Trump’s biggest supporters in Congress are suggesting Sessions ought to step down or be fired.
House Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and former HFC Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) posed a series of questions Thursday ― published in a scornful op-ed in the Washington Examiner ― that ask how the FBI got a surveillance warrant to monitor potential collusion between Russia and Trump campaign official Carter Page, and why the FBI won’t answer their questions.
“We in Congress have asked them repeatedly to tell us what was in the application they took to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court to get a warrant for spying on the Trump campaign,” Meadows and Jordan write. “Did they use the dossier in their application?”
The “dossier” in question is the memo prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that makes a number of explosive claims about Trump’s ties to Russia and describes alleged compromising information the Russians may have on the president. Conservatives see the dossier as a faulty opposition research document that shouldn’t have been used to secure any FISA warrant ― even if at least some of the claims in the dossier have been corroborated, particularly regarding certain meetings between Page and a Russian official.
The New York Times published a report last week claiming the FBI mostly used information gleaned by an Australian diplomat who shared a drunken conversation with another Trump campaign official, George Papadopoulos, in May 2016 to secure their FISA warrant.
But Meadows and Jordan ask why, if that was the case, the FBI didn’t interview Papadopoulos until January 2017, and why the FISA warrant was centered on Page ― who plays a major role in the Steele dossier ― but not Papadopoulos.
“It seems remarkably odd that instead of the FBI answering the critical questions that Congress has repeatedly asked, they instead leak a far-fetched and ill-supported story to the New York Times,” Meadows and Jordan write. “If this is the truth, then give us the documentation we’ve asked for to prove it.”
Without actually saying so, the Freedom Caucus leaders go right up to the edge of calling on Sessions to step down. Their letter suggests the need for a new attorney general if Sessions is unable to address their issues immediately.
HuffPost reached out to Meadows on Thursday for clarification about whether he and Jordan were saying Sessions should resign or be fired. Meadows said it was time that all relevant documents ― “in unredacted forms” ― be delivered to Congress. “Using an unverified political document, paid for by a Democrat campaign and Democrat Party to justify spying on an American citizen, sets a terrible precedent and is not in keeping with the original intent of the FISA program.”
Congress is currently struggling to reauthorize certain sections of the FISA program, but is expected to come to an agreement later this month by having hawkish Republicans team up with some Democrats to renew controversial surveillance programs.
Meadows and Jordan complain that the FBI won’t share what it used to obtain a FISA warrant on Page. But former Department of Justice spokesman Matt Milller ― now a partner at the management consulting firm Vianovo ― told HuffPost it would be highly unusual for the FBI or DOJ to share that sort of information with Congress, particularly if the investigation was ongoing and had moved from a counterintelligence investigation to a criminal one.
“Bottom-line rule: You don’t share information about a criminal investigation while it’s ongoing,” Miller said.
Miller also questioned some of the assumptions Meadows and Jordan make in their op-ed, such as Papadopoulos not being under surveillance, albeit not through a FISA court.
“He could have very well been under surveillance,” Miller said. “They have no idea.”
Reading the Examiner op-ed, it’s difficult not to question Meadows and Jordan’s motives.
They begin the piece by praising Trump’s accomplishments, and they write that “there is no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
But we know that at least some Trump campaign officials knew the Russians had thousands of emails that would damage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. We know people like Donald Trump Jr. sought out information from Russia-connected sources that could hurt Clinton. And there seems to be, at the very least, some sketchy financial dealings with people like onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. To suggest the ongoing investigations are without merit isn’t exactly truthful.
There’s also the matter of why conservatives see the need to run interference for Trump on Russia, particularly as they seek a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and other government dealings during the 2016 campaign.
But they may at least have a point about the Justice Department refusing to show Congress the documents that the FBI used to obtain a FISA warrant. And they may yet be proven right that the Steele dossier played more of a role in getting that warrant than certain leaks have suggested ― though that doesn’t necessarily mean the FBI was wrong to watch a Trump campaign official who was meeting with Russians.
Either way, Meadows and Jordan want more information.
“If Sessions can’t address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer: When is it time for a new attorney general?” Meadows and Jordan wrote Thursday. “Sadly, it seems the answer is now.”