The chairmen of two powerful congressional committees say people high up in the Department of Justice have mounted attacks on a congressional staffer who is aiding an investigation into the department’s misconduct in spying on the Trump campaign.
“Attacking staffers, planting false stories, and endangering national security by leaking sensitive information to the press, including information about intelligence sources—this is what the DOJ is doing, and this why trust in the DOJ is rapidly eroding in Congress,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Fox News reported.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House oversight committee, said: “I would have a lot more respect for DOJ or House committee Democrats if they would take out their frustrations on members of Congress, and leave staffers alone. The members make the final decision and are responsible for them, not staffers.”
Nunes and Gowdy were likely referring to two articles in The New York Times that talked about House intelligence committee staffer Kashyap Patel.
One was published on Feb. 2, the day President Donald Trump declassified a memo by the Republican majority of the House intelligence committee, which accused top FBI and DOJ officials from the Obama administration of improperly obtaining a FISA spying warrant to surveil Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
The article claimed Patel coauthored the memo and portrayed him as “no stranger to quarrels” who “has sometimes run afoul of the rules.”
It listed three incidents, including one in which Patel dropped out of a 2014 charity bachelor auction after it was pointed out that his license to practice law in Florida had expired.
The second incident happened in 2016, when Patel, in his previous role as a DOJ counterterrorism lawyer, was berated by a federal judge in Texas. The incident was covered by The Washington Post at the time, mainly for the grumpiness of the judge.
The third incident was a visit Patel allegedly paid to former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele last summer.
Steele authored the now infamous dossier that in 2016 included claims characterized as “salacious and unverified” by then-FBI Director James Comey about Trump and his campaign. Steele was paid for the work by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The dossier was heavily relied upon to obtain the spying warrant on Page, according to the aforementioned memo.
The article claimed Patel’s visit to Steele “appeared to violate protocol” because he didn’t inform the intelligence committee Democrats or the U.S. Embassy.
But this point has been rejected by committee staff director Damon Nelson.
“The story that Kash flew to London to meet with Christopher Steele is false, no matter how many times it’s reported,” he said, explaining that Patel and another staffer were in London on committee business when Nelson asked them to contact Steele’s lawyer to get an address to where the committee could send Steele an invitation to testify.
The second New York Times story, on May 12, claimed Patel misled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about his London trip during a meeting between congressional investigators and DOJ officials. The claim referred to a single source—“a former federal law enforcement official familiar with the interaction.”
Nelson fired back against the claim. “Anonymous DOJ officials who imply to reporters that Kash has ever been dishonest about this are spreading an outright falsehood,” he said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores dismissed the New York Times story.
“As Deputy Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein has said repeatedly, we don’t put a lot of stock in anonymous sources over here, and we are committed to continuing to work with Chairmen Gowdy and Nunes to accommodate their requests,” she said.
Patel is one of two staffers on the committee who recently reported Rosenstein to the House Office of General Counsel for allegedly threatening lawmakers and their staffers with a subpoena on their emails and phone records.
A DOJ official acknowledged the subpoena threat to Fox News, but said it was meant as a defensive move against Nunes for threatening Rosenstein with contempt of Congress, which is a misdemeanor offense punishable by one to 12 months in jail and a $100 to $1,000 fine.
The Office of General Counsel already confronted Patel with this argument, which he rejected.
“I took … it as [Rosenstein’s] clearly articulated course of action, should the committee continue its investigation in the current manner, which he found unacceptable and improper. It was not in response to how they would defend litigation (i.e., contempt or the like),” Patel wrote in an email (obtained by Fox) to the general counsel. “It was about leaks, source contact, and other alleged disclosures by the committee.”
Nunes is fighting Rosenstein for a certain document, the details of which are not public but that likely concern an informant tasked with spying on the Trump campaign before the 2016 presidential election, as well as reasons for launching the surveillance.
The DOJ pushed back against the request, arguing that “disclosure of responsive information to such requests can risk severe consequences, including potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities,” according to a May 3 letter to Nunes from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd.
However, current and former government officials already leaked details identifying the spy to media and he’s been de-facto outed as American intelligence-linked professor Stefan Halper.
Both the DOJ inspector general and the House intelligence committee are currently probing the high-level FBI and DOJ officials involved in spying on the Trump campaign and why they launched the operation.
Nunes gave the DOJ until June 12 to produce the requested document to the whole committee and select staffers. Rosenstein and others offered to meet on June 14, but only with a group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight, which consists of the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, as well as the heads of the intelligence committees in both chambers.
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