The White House does not support ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) efforts to obstruct a congressional inquiry into the agency’s activities before and after the 2016 election, multiple White House and congressional officials told The Federalist. The independent accounts of these officials contradict news reports last week that the White House and DOJ were aligned against Congress in the matter.
Following the issuance of a subpoena by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), the Justice Department started waging a fierce public relations war in response, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein characterizing the congressional inquiry as “extortion.” Last week, the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump backed DOJ’s refusal to comply with a subpoena for information related to a key source involved in multiple investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
“Top White House officials, with the assent of President Trump, agreed to back the decision to withhold the information [listed in the subpoena],” the Washington Post claimed. “The showdown marked a rare moment of alignment between the Justice Department and Trump.”
The newspaper pointedly asserted “that the White House sided with the department’s decision to refuse the request.”
Multiple congressional and White House officials, however, categorically denied reports that the White House had backed DOJ’s efforts to conceal information subpoenaed by Congress.
“No one at the White House has told the Department of Justice or any other agency to refuse to comply with a Congressional subpoena,” a senior White House official told The Federalist. The official said the dispute was between Congress and a handful of federal agencies and that the White House expected the parties to find a way to satisfy the subpoena.
A senior GOP source familiar with the White House’s posture also disputed early reports about White House alignment with DOJ’s view on the subpoenaed information.
“The White House has consistently told congressional leaders that it expects agencies to comply with Congressional oversight requests,” the official said.
These officials say that the conversations between DOJ, the White House, and others were full of encouragement to comply with the subpoena. All parties agreed the information was sensitive, leading some participants to express frustration at leaks to the Washington Post that included specific biographical and professional details about the identity of the source DOJ says it wishes to protect.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who chairs HPSCI and has spearheaded the committee’s investigation into recent law enforcement and intelligence community abuses, also rejected claims that the White House backed ongoing agency obstruction of Congress.
“Look, I just don’t believe that the White House does not want them to comply with a subpoena from Congress,” the lawmaker told reporters last week.
The seemingly false report that President Donald Trump backed DOJ’s ongoing obstruction has taken off. The New York Times also parroted the claim, writing that Nunes’ claim “claim pitted him against not just the Justice Department, but also officials in the F.B.I., the intelligence community and the White House, who warned that disclosure could endanger a longtime source who is aiding the special counsel’s investigation.”
Major media outlets weren’t the only publications to latch on to the idea that the White House sought to block congressional investigators from conducting oversight of agencies created by and funded through appropriations from Congress.
Commentary magazine published an error-riddled attack on Nunes that claimed, incorrectly, that he was “on the wrong side of Donald Trump.” It incorrectly said that DOJ’s case was so convincing “that Trump agreed with it,” embellishing the false claim with an unfounded assertion that “President Trump was persuaded by the claim that the HPSCI chairman could not be trusted with information that is explicitly within his purview.”
Speaker Paul Ryan has publicly encouraged DOJ to quickly comply with the subpoena.
“I think this request is wholly appropriate and is completely within the scope of the investigation that has been ongoing for awhile with respect to [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Ryan said.
“I actually think this is something that should have been answered awhile ago.”