Three weeks ago, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein threatened House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes with subpoenas of their “texts, messages, and phone calls” if the committee continued to expose partisanship, bias and corruption at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Saying he was “tired of dealing with the Intelligence Committee,” he threatened to use the panoply of his powers as deputy attorney general to get rid of this pestilential nuisance.
It is a crime to threaten a member of Congress for exercising a constitutionally protected right; 18 USC 242 provides that: “It is a crime for a government official to use his office to threaten anyone, including a member of Congress, for exercising a constitutionally protected right and other similar abuse of power.”
The House and Senate Permanent Committees on Intelligence were established in 1977 after decades of abuse of the powers of intelligence agencies in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford Administrations were uncovered.
These activities ranged from assassinations of foreign leaders in Congo and Chile to secretly subsidizing political parties in European democracies (such as Italy) to blackmail and extortion.
Operating without oversight or constraint, the CIA and the FBI routinely trampled both on civil liberties and civilized norms as they sought to fight leftist regimes abroad and left-wing demonstrators at home.
The committees are bound by strict secrecy and, in general, their members have hued to these standards.
But the bounds of fairness and objectivity have recently been stretched beyond recognition by the countervailing contentions of the two parties in the Russia/Trump/Dossier/FBI/Uranium scandal(s).
So shocked by the government’s use of the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency to spy on the transition team and administration appointments of the incoming Trump administration was House Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and the Republican committee majority that they drafted a memorandum detailing the flimsy basis for the surveillance and showing how the Justice Department had hidden certain key facts from the FISA Court that permitted the surveillance.
It recounted how the dossier on which the FISA warrant was based was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The Committee was further angered by the fact that Rosenstein withheld this piece of information from the committee, even as it was litigating to enforce a subpoena to discover the sources of the dossier funding.
Yet Rosenstein and his partisan allies in the Justice Department knew all along that the dossier was, indeed, funded by the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party.
As a result, tensions between Rosenstein and the committee have heightened and seemed to boil over in the hearing three weeks ago.
While no transcripts of the hearing are available (Intelligence Committee transcripts are rarely made public), two independent observers reported the heated comments of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.
If, indeed, Rosenstein did threaten the committee with increased surveillance and a probe of its emails, texts and other internal communications, it would likely constitute a violation of law.
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