The FBI on Friday sharply rebuked the House Judiciary Committee for pushing to publish more than 3,400 pages of confidential witness interviews, escalating tensions between the Justice Department and GOP leaders.
The two sides have long clashed as Republicans have conducted long-running investigations into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, as well as potential anti-Trump bias in the bureau.
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In particular, the FBI chafed at a tight deadline the committee had provided to review the vast trove of sensitive documents.
According to a letter sent Friday to Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, congressional staff notified the FBI on Dec. 19 that they wanted the 3,400 pages reviewed by Dec. 24, which the missive noted is “Christmas Eve” and “during the anticipated Government shutdown.”
Plus, releasing unredacted interviews could reveal classified information, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich cautioned in the letter.
“It is our shared responsibility — predicated on legal requirements — to protect sensitive information of this nature from public disclosure,” Bowdich wrote.
“Therefore, we respectfully request that the Committees maintain the confidentiality of the un-redacted interview transcripts pending a complete review by the FBI, the Department, and the Special Counsel’s Office, as appropriate,” Bowdich continued, hinting that some of the transcripts may affect special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe if published.
Republicans are preparing to wind down 14 months of investigations into their Clinton and FBI bias probes. Democrats have vowed to end the inquiry, calling it a partisan expedition to protect Trump from mounting investigations of his associates.
The investigations were led by Goodlatte and Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, along with a small subset of members from both panels. Democrats have members on the task force as well.
The investigatory panel has interviewed numerous senior FBI officials, including former Director James Comey and his inner circle, as well as two FBI officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — whose anti-Trump text messages fueled Trump allies’ claims of a conspiracy against the president.
They also talked to former Obama administration Justice Department officials. It’s unclear if the committees plan to release a report of their findings before Democrats take the House next month.
The FBI warned that those discussions were highly sensitive.
“Based on the information discussed during those closed interviews and included in the transcripts, the FBI believes that the release of un-redacted or inadequately redacted transcripts will result in the disclosure of law enforcement sensitive information and personally identifiable information,” Bowdich wrote.