A top senator is accusing the FBI of keeping Democrats in the dark about the agency’s disclosures to Republican-led Senate committees, revealing that the FBI later made a mea culpa and pledged to not repeat the apparent violations of congressional oversight norms.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Monday that the bureau was improperly providing documents and other information to Republicans, sometimes without even informing Democrats of their existence.
“I am deeply concerned that by violating its own policies the FBI is again succumbing to political pressure from Republicans to damage the Democratic presidential candidate,” Wyden wrote in his letter, obtained by POLITICO.
“Providing documents to committee majorities without disclosure to the minority is unacceptable,” Wyden later added. “Providing access to documents for review by Republican staffers without notice to, or inclusion of, Democratic staff is also unacceptable.”
Wyden’s letter is the latest salvo in the ongoing partisan battle over Senate Republicans’ investigations targeting top Obama administration officials, including the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Those investigations are being helmed primarily by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Democrats have accused their GOP counterparts of using the probes to boost President Donald Trump’s re-election chances by targeting the president’s political opponents, most notably Biden.
Wyden listed several instances in which he says the FBI provided documents to the majority party without informing Democrats or giving them access to the information.
For example, according to Wyden, the FBI allowed Republican aides to view sensitive documents related to an FBI briefing Trump received shortly before assuming office, but Democrats were “not informed of or provided an opportunity to participate in this review.” A similar practice was followed for documents related to defensive briefings provided to the Trump campaign and presidential transition staff, Wyden said.
The senator cited an August 7 letter from the FBI’s congressional affairs director stating that the agency has “surged resources in order to expedite the processing” of the GOP requests for information related to the Trump transition team. According to Wyden, the letter also states that the FBI’s compliance is due to “extraordinary and unique circumstances, and should not be construed as precedent setting in any regard.”
Wyden said FBI congressional affairs staffers “described these circumstances as an oversight that will be remedied going forward.” He also said that in a staff-level phone call earlier this month, those FBI aides “declined to discuss” whether the agency had determined that the Republicans’ investigations serve a valid legislative purpose.
“Nonetheless, the representatives of the FBI stated that providing this sort of highly sensitive information to committees without clear jurisdiction over such matters was indeed extraordinary and would not be repeated in the future,” Wyden added.
Representatives for the FBI and for Grassley did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wyden’s letter. Republicans have accused their Democratic counterparts of leaking information about their investigations to the press, though they have not provided evidence to back up those claims.
Though Wray is a Trump appointee, he has often angered congressional Republicans, especially when it comes to their oversight of the FBI’s actions before and after the 2016 presidential election, in which the Trump campaign was the target of a counterintelligence investigation related to Russian interference in the campaign.
Last week, Johnson issued a subpoena to Wray demanding all documents related to that probe. Two days later, Graham released a statement detailing a phone conversation with Wray, saying that the FBI chief was “committed to being helpful — in an appropriate manner — by balancing the needs of privacy for Bureau employees with public transparency for the benefit of the American people.”
“Director Wray expressed to me his commitment to holding accountable those who may have committed violations of law or policy, providing appropriate due process sooner rather than later,” Graham continued.
Indeed, Trump has openly encouraged the Senate GOP-led investigations, even pushing Graham at one point to haul in former President Barack Obama before the Judiciary Committee — a suggestion Graham flatly rejected.
Johnson, meanwhile, has accused Democrats of seeking to undermine his investigations targeting the Obama administration and the Biden family, specifically the former vice president’s son Hunter and his role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Earlier this month, U.S. intelligence agencies said Kremlin-aligned Ukrainians are seeking to meddle in the 2020 presidential election by pushing similar corruption claims about Biden, specifically naming a Ukrainian lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, who has sent information about Biden to top Trump allies on Capitol Hill.