As the man in the middle of a bitter fight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t handling it well.
A new report about a confrontation between congressional staff and the Justice Department’s No. 2 man who is overseeing the “Russian collusion” investigation regarding the Donald Trump presidential campaign paints a chilling picture of a government bureaucrat threatening members of Congress.
And Sessions, the Justice Department’s ostensible No. 1 man, is left trying to clean up the mess in public.
According to a Fox News report, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe after Sessions recused himself last year, threatened to “subpoena” documents from the House Intelligence Committee, such as emails and phone records, because of the committee’s aggressive oversight of the Russia probe.
According to the report by Catherine Herridge, Fox News intelligence correspondent, an email by an intelligence committee staffer described a January meeting between the committee and Rosenstein that got downright hostile.
“The DAG [Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein] criticized the Committee for sending our requests in writing and was further critical of the Committee’s request to have DOJ/FBI do the same when responding,” Herridge quoted the email.
“Going so far as to say that if the Committee likes being litigators, then ‘we [DOJ] too [are] litigators, and we will subpoena your records and your emails,’ referring to HPSCI [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] and Congress overall.”
According to Herridge, the email was written by Kashyap Patel, the House Intelligence Committee’s then-senior counsel for counterterrorism to the House Office of General Counsel.
According to a New York Times report from February, Patel is the man who wrote the memo from Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that described how the FBI obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on members of the Trump presidential campaign.
According to Herridge, another intelligence committee staff member backed up Patel’s account:
“Let me just add that watching the Deputy Attorney General launch a sustained personal attack against a congressional staffer in retaliation for vigorous oversight was astonishing and disheartening,” the staffer wrote, according to Herridge. “… Also, having the nation’s #1 (for these matters) law enforcement officer threaten to ‘subpoena your calls and emails’ was downright chilling.”
In an appearance Tuesday on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Sessions disputed the Herridge account.
Check it out here:
“The FBI director, the senior ethics attorney for the Department of Justice who was in the room, say that’s a mischaracterization, really, of what occurred,” Sessions told Carlson.
“And it also, I think, indicates that there’s been a breakdown in relationships when in fact since January, a great deal of progress has been made.
“We understand in this department that we are accountable to the president. We are accountable to Congress and we need to be cooperative with them to produce as many documents as rationally and legally and properly as can be produced, to produce them, and we’ve made tremendous progress in that regard, really.”
Viewers can decide how convincing Sessions’ appearance. One view might be that it was an attempt at damage control, and that the report of open warfare between the department he oversees and congressional investigators has Sessions panicking in a way that tweets from the president criticizing him haven’t.
Tom Dupree, a former principal deputy assistant attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, told Herridge the emails Fox reported show a “massive breakdown” between Justice and its congressional overseers.
“This is much worse than a deteriorating relationship – this is a massive breakdown in the system. A deputy attorney general does not make subpoena threats lightly. This is not the norm to say the least,” he told Fox.
“It’s hard to tell whether (Rosenstein) was sending a message to back off, or whether he was just trying to illustrate how invasive he considered the demands from Congress. But either way, it is a clear signal that the relationship is fractured, and it’s not clear how things will get repaired.”
The Fox report gives Sessions another big mess to clean up. It’s not really clear he can.
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