The FBI turned over thousands of documents to Congress this week, including details about its use of informants to glean information on Russian contacts with President Donald Trump’s campaign, according to letters the bureau sent to three GOP committee chairmen on Friday.
The documents provided this week include details about some of the FBI’s most sensitive programs, including a file on the FBI’s justification to obtain a court-authorized warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign aide in October 2016.
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The move appears poised to thaw a pitched confrontation between Republican lawmakers and the Justice Department, though Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said there are a few “outstanding items” that require more time. One FBI letter responded to document requests by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made in August 2017, as well as in March and April. The other was to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and House Overisght Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who issued an extensive subpoena for records in March.
Files continued to arrive on Capitol Hill as late as Friday, according to the bureau, when the FBI submitted a classified letter to the House Intelligence Committee detailing whether the FBI relied on informants on Russian meddling prior to the official opening of its investigation.
Also on Friday, the FBI turned over more than 1,400 pages of documents to the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees relating to senior FBI or Justice Department officials’ requests to review or manage surveillance records that either involve or mention the Trump campaign or Trump administration.
The documents, for now, appear to have cooled tensions between the FBI and Republican House leaders, who had threatened to hold senior officials in contempt of Congress if they failed to quickly turn over more information. Ryan got involved in the growing conflict last week, and his office indicated that the negotiations had been productive — if not complete. Nunes, Goodlatte and Gowdy have decried stonewalling by the agency, though FBI officials had insisted they were working expeditiously to meet unprecedented demands for information.
“Our efforts have resulted in the committees finally getting access to information that was sought months ago, but some important requests remain to be completed,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan, who got involved . “Additional time has been requested for the outstanding items, and based on our understanding of the process we believe that request is reasonable.”
Among the outstanding items is a request from Nunes for documents related to the so-called Steele Dossier — a collection of memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele describing an illicit conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign to help Trump get elected. Trump has called the dossier a fiction, and Republicans seized on evidence that Steele’s work was financed indirectly by the campaign of his political rival Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
In its letters — signed by acting Assistant Director Jill Tyson — the FBI said it is still combing through as many as 65,000 “Top Secret” internal emails to find information about how the Steele Dossier was used to obtain surveillance warrants.
Tyson noted that the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch had developed a specific search tool to sift through these Top Secret communications to meet the congressional demands.
“To accomplish this production, the FBI has shifted resources from other Congressional production projects and is adding staff to further expedite review and processing,” she write. “FBI staff will be working through the weekend to keep the production moving forward.”
One request, though, the FBI has passed on to the office of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: a demand for transcripts of summaries of FBI informants’ conversations with officials on the Trump campaign.
One informant’s identity was recently made public in reports: Stefan Halper, a University of Cambridge scholar and veteran of three presidential administrations. Halper made contact with Trump campaign officials in the summer of 2016 and into 2017. Trump has slammed the existence of confidential informants, claiming without evidence that his political opponents had implanted a “spy” in his campaign.
The FBI, according to its letter to the Oversight and Judiciary Committees, is also working on a classified letter to detail any communications about its use of surveillance “on the Clinton Foundation or personas associated or in communication with the Clinton Foundation. Tyson said the request has proved “difficult to address” and wants to confer with the committees for more details about the information they are seeking.
Democrats have raised increasingly pitched concerns about the intrusiveness of GOP requests. Republicans have argued that their demands for information are part of a constitutional responsibility to oversee the FBI and Justice Department, but Democrats and some FBI defenders say their efforts appear aimed at providing fodder for Trump to defend against the ongoing investigation of his campaign’s contacts with Kremlin-linked individuals. That probe is now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.