WASHINGTON — Tensions between congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are rising over Russia, as lawmakers probing alleged ties between the president’s team and the Kremlin accused officials of trying to block their efforts.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose committee is one of several where investigations are underway, accused Justice Department officials Wednesday of lying when they promised they’d share information about their departmental probes with lawmakers conducting oversight.
“It doesn’t matter whether you have a Republican or Democrat president, every time they come up here for their nomination hearing … I ask them, ‘Are you going to answer phone calls and our letters, and are you going to give us the documents we want?’ And every time we get a real positive ‘yes.’ And then they end up being liars,” Grassley said, screaming into the phone during an interview with the Post. “It’s not if they’re treating us differently than another committee. It’s if they’re responding at all.”
Grassley spoke as he awaited a private meeting with FBI Director James Comey to determine whether the bureau is investigating alleged Russia interference in last year’s elections. Grassley threatened to block the nomination of Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general until his committee receives an FBI briefing.
Late Wednesday afternoon, his committee’s ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — who also attended the private meeting with Comey — credited Grassley’s “tough language” and the “strength” of his written warnings to the Justice Department for getting the briefing.
Grassley is not alone in voicing frustration at how the administration is interacting with lawmakers trying to investigate allegations of links between the Trump team and Russia. Several key lawmakers are threatening to subpoena the administration for any evidence backing up President Donald Trump’s charges that the Obama administration wiretapped his phones during the campaign.
The tension could break into the open Monday during a House Intelligence Committee public hearing featuring Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency. It will provide a chance for lawmakers to grill the FBI director and others on allegations that Russia intervened to try to tilt the campaign for Trump.
House Intelligence Committee leaders Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said they were prepared to subpoena the Justice Department for evidence to back up Trump’s wiretap claim if the administration does not meet a Monday deadline.
Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, declared flatly there was no evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped during the campaign.
But Trump is defending the explosive charge, arguing during an interview Wednesday with Fox News that the term “wiretap covers a lot of different things.”
“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” Trump said, according to a partial transcript.
Trump’s claims, first made on Twitter, were a pivotal episode for many Republican lawmakers who are losing patience as they await proof few believe exists.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s crime and terrorism subcommittee, also sent Justice Department officials a letter last week asking for evidence of any wiretapping warrants or applications. Graham threatened Wednesday to subpoena that information until he heard that Comey would soon brief them privately.
Nunes and Schiff also sent Comey, Rogers and CIA Director Mike Pompeo a letter Wednesday demanding a list of people whose names have been “unmasked” after popping up in other surveillance — the way, they noted, authorities discovered that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Nunes said it was possible that Trump’s name could appear on such a list, though he said he has seen no evidence of improper contact,