Prepared Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On Oversight of the Justice Department and the Need for Transparency
January 24, 2018
I wanted to come to the floor today to talk about the Judiciary Committee’s important oversight and investigations work over the past year. There are a lot of issues that need more sunlight and scrutiny.
One of my key concerns is the loss of faith in the ability of the Justice Department and the FBI to do their jobs free from partisan political bias. The American people are rightly skeptical because of how the Department and the FBI have handled the following subjects:
1. Hillary Clinton and
2. Donald Trump and his associates.
Hiding from tough questions about these controversial cases is no way to reassure the public. If the Department is afraid of independent oversight, that just reinforces people’s suspicions and skepticism. The only real way to reassure people is to let the sun shine in and let the chips fall where they may.
In each of these cases, the government should obviously find out what happened and hold people accountable if there was any wrongdoing. But, it also has to play by the rules, and be held accountable for its actions, too. We need to shine the light of day on all of it.
As part of our investigation we have requested documents and other information from the Department of Justice and FBI. Much of that information is classified. The Department has provided very limited access to those classified materials. It has limited the Judiciary Committee’s review to the Chair and Ranking of the full committee and the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. The government has also tried to severely limit the number of appropriately cleared staff who can review documents and take notes.
We have reviewed some information related to whether the FBI used the so-called Trump dossier and the extent of its relationship with its author, Christopher Steele. As we know now, Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to research Mr. Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. His work was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Remember, it took a subpoena and a court battle with the House Intelligence committee to force that fact out into the open.
Lawyers for the DNC and Clinton Campaign officials denied it to the press for months. They lied. The founder of Fusion GPS denied that his firm was “Democrat-linked.” That was untrue. When the news finally broke, New York Times reporters actually complained that people who knew better had flat out lied to them about who funded Mr. Steele’s dossier.
But, back before the 2016 election, it is unclear who knew that Steele was gathering dirt on Trump for the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Many of his sources for claims about the Trump campaign are Russian government officials. So, Steele, who was working for Fusion GPS, who was working for the DNC and the Clinton campaign, was working with the Russians. So, who was actually colluding with Russians? It’s becoming more clear.
Mr. Steele shared his, at least partially, Russian-based allegations far and wide. He shared them with the FBI. He shared them with the media. And, according to public reports, he shared them with high ranking officials in the Justice Department and the State Department.
Well, in the course of our review, Senator Graham and I came across some information that just does not add up. We saw Mr. Steele swearing one thing in a public libel suit against him in London. Then we saw contradictory things in documents that I am not going to talk about in an open setting. And from everything we’ve learned so far, we believe these discrepancies are significant. So, we sent a referral of Christopher Steele to the Justice Department and the FBI for potential violations of 18 USC 1001.
Now, I guess people are going to say whatever they want to say about it, no matter what the facts are. But it doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the public debate to ignore those facts or to speculate—wrongly—about Senator Graham’s motivations, or mine.
First, despite all the hubbub, this is not all that unusual. Anyone can ask for a criminal investigation. I have done it in the past when I’ve come across potential crimes in the course of my oversight work. And I have done so publicly. This situation is no different.
Second, as the Special Counsel has reminded us all recently, lying to a federal official is a crime. It doesn’t matter who is doing the lying. Politics should have nothing to do with it.
I’ve said repeatedly that I support Mr. Mueller’s work and that I respect his role. I still do. Nothing has changed. Let me say it again in case anyone missed it.
The Special Counsel should be free to complete his work, and to follow the facts wherever they lead.
But that doesn’t mean I can ignore what look like false statements. If an individual sees what might be evidence of a crime, he or she should report that to law enforcement so it can be fully investigated. That is exactly what Senator Graham and I did.
That does not mean we have made up our minds about what happened. It is possible Mr. Steele told the truth and the other, contradictory statements that we saw were wrong. But, just like any court would do, we start by assuming that government documents are true until we see evidence to the contrary. If those documents are not true, and there are serious discrepancies that are no fault of Mr. Steele, then we have another problem—an arguably more serious one.
Of course, even aside from these inconsistencies, public reports about the way the FBI may have used the dossier should give everyone in this chamber pause. Director Comey testified in 2017 that it was “salacious and unverified.” If it was unverified in 2017, then it had to be unverified in 2016, too.
So, it was a collection of unverified opposition research funded by a political opponent in an election year. Would it be proper for the Obama administration—or any administration—to use something like that to authorize further investigation that intrudes on the privacy of people associated with its political opponents?
That should bother civil libertarians of any political stripe.
Now, I wish I could talk more openly about the basis for our referral and other concerns, but right now that information is largely classified. It is controlled by the Justice Department. As I said, the Department has permitted only the Chair and Ranking of the full Committee and the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, and limited numbers of their cleared staff, to see the underlying documents.
I have been pushing for the Department to provide the same access to other Judiciary Committee Members and their appropriately cleared staffs. But the Department refuses to provide that access or even to brief the other Members on the underlying information.
Fortunately, the Department has agreed that it has no business objecting to our Members reviewing our own work. So I have encouraged our Committee members and their appropriately cleared staff to do that. Look at the memo that Senator Graham and I sent to the Deputy Attorney General and the FBI Director. Members can then make up their own minds about it. I have also encouraged them to review the Committee’s transcripts and other unclassified materials that have been available to them and their staffs for many months. Finally, I’ve encouraged them to let me know if they believe that any of that information should be made public. I believe in transparency. We may agree that certain information should be released at the appropriate time with care to preserve classified information and the integrity of the investigation.
I have already been pushing the Department to review the classified referral memorandum to confirm the memo’s classification markings so that we can release the unclassified portions as soon as possible. But now the Department has deferred to the FBI, and the FBI is falsely claiming that three of our unclassified paragraphs each contain the same, single classified fact.
Now, that surprised me, because those particular paragraphs are based on non-government sources and do not claim to repeat or confirm any information from any government document. Even if those portions of our referral did reference the allegedly classified fact at issue, it is hard to understand why that fact should be classified.
First, the Deputy Attorney General has discussed the fact at issue with me more than once in unsecure space and on an unsecure phone line. Second, the FBI is not acting as if this information would harm national security if released. FBI never notified the entities copied on the memo’s transmittal, for example, including the Inspector General and the Intelligence Committees, to ensure that fact was protected as classified.
If FBI really believed this fact was classified, then the FBI and the Department should take better care to act consistent with that belief. Unfortunately, I suspect something else is really going on here. It sure looks like a bureaucratic game of hide the ball, rather than a genuine concern about national security. I am pressing this issue with Director Wray, and I hope that we can provide this information to the public as soon as possible.
I also believe that the Department should carefully review the entire memorandum and begin an orderly process to declassify as much of that information as possible. The Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives recently voted to allow all House Members to review a short memo summarizing what it has learned. Senators are not allowed to see it. However, House Members who have seen it have been calling for a vote to release the memo.
Here in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee has access to the same information that the House Intelligence Committee saw before drafting its summary memo. Our committee does not have the same authority to release classified information. We have to rely on the agency to review and potentially declassify our memo.
Based on what I know, I agree that as much of this information should made be public as soon as possible, through the appropriate process. And, I don’t just mean the summary memos. The government should release the underlying documents referenced in those memos, after deleting any national security information that truly needs to be protected. But most of this story can be told, and should be told. The American people deserve the truth.
Stale, recycled media spin from journalists and pundits who do not have all the facts is not enough. The country is filled with frenzy and speculation, but hungry for facts. However, I cannot release this information on my own, and neither should anyone else. Classified information is controlled by the Executive Branch. We should work together to achieve the greater transparency while still protecting legitimately sensitive national security information.