The House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether the government has used the Justice Department’s awesome investigative authorities as a weapon against political adversaries. We learned yesterday that, in response to this very investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein . . . threatened to use the Justice Department’s awesome investigative authorities as a weapon against political adversaries.
That Rosenstein threatened to subpoena the committee’s records does not seem to be in serious dispute. There are differing accounts about why. House investigators say that Rosenstein was trying to bully his way out of compliance with oversight demands; the Justice Department offers the lawyerly counter that Rosenstein was merely foreshadowing his litigating position if the House were to try to hold him in contempt for obstructing its investigations. Either way, the best explanation for the outburst is that Rosenstein is beset by profound conflicts of interest, and he’s acting like it.
The first thing to bear in mind about the news reported Tuesday by Fox News’s Catherine Herridgeis that the dispute in question — which is just one of many during a year of Justice Department stonewalling — happened five months ago, on January 10.
So, what was going on back then?
Among other things, the House Intelligence Committee and senior Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were pressing for disclosure of the applications the Justice Department submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISA court”) for warrants to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a former Trump-campaign adviser. (The Nunes memo is dated just eight days after Rosenstein’s reported subpoena threat; the Grassley-Graham memo is dated just four days before; both prompted bitter disclosure fights.)
Back then, we were being told that the FBI and Justice Department would never provide the FISA court with unverified allegations from third- and fourth-hand anonymous foreign sources, purveyed by a foreign former spy whose partisan work — including the planting of media stories at the height of the election race — had been paid for by the Democratic presidential candidate. We were being told that if the sources of information presented to the FISA court had any potential biases, those would be candidly disclosed to the FISA court. And we were being told that information in FISA applications is so highly classified that disclosing it would reveal methods and sources of information, almost certainly putting lives and national security in jeopardy.