The Justice Department will appoint a U.S. attorney to oversee the release of documents related to the FBI’s 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton amid Republican complaints — including from President Donald Trump — that the DOJ is slow-walking their release.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Monday that U.S. Attorney John Lausch will direct the Justice Department’s process of combing through, redacting and releasing thousands of documents sought by lawmakers. She said Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray selected Lausch because as a U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, he is “outside of D.C. and independent of the FBI hierarchy.”
“Mr. Lausch, who has experience in the Department and in private practice, will ensure that production moves at an acceptable pace and that any redactions are necessary and consistent under the relevant laws and regulations,” Isgur Flores said.
But the move is already drawing frustration and concern from a top Trump ally in Congress, who says it flouts the urgency expressed by GOP lawmakers and appears to be an attempt to distance Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from their role in the process.
“The move to put a U.S. attorney in charge of documents production certainly is welcomed but it is a small gesture that is a little too late,” Meadows said in an email. “This outsourcing of the decision making will NOT distance the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General from the legitimate criticism that they are obstructing our oversight responsibilities.”
“Patience ran out last week after a fourth appeal to expedite the process was met with a yawn,” he added.
Meadows, who often speaks to Trump, spent the weekend criticizing the Justice Department’s process, taking to Twitter to vent frustration. Trump, too, made a rare foray into the congressional committee process, blasting his own Justice Department and FBI for missing a Thursday subpoena deadline set by the House Judiciary Committee.
“What does the Department of Justice and FBI have to hide? Why aren’t they giving the strongly requested documents (unredacted) to the HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE?” he tweeted Saturday. “Stalling, but for what reason? Not looking good!”
The committee has for months sought thousands of documents related to the FBI’s handling of its 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Many of those documents have been compiled by the Justice Department’s inspector general who’s expected to release a comprehensive report on FBI decision-making in the investigation in the next few weeks. But only a few thousand of an estimated 1.2 million records have been provided to the committee, GOP lawmakers say, and many have been heavily redacted.
Trump allies have blasted the bureau and former Director James Comey — fired by Trump last year — for declining to charge Clinton in the investigation. Comey is preparing to launch a national book tour next week in which he’s expected to provide details about his interactions with Trump
The Justice Department insisted Monday that the department was being painstaking in its document release process because it was required to be by law, keeping secret classified information, personal information and information related to grand juries. Lawmakers are only in a position to complain about redactions, Flores said, because the department has made the unredacted versions available to many of them in secure settings.
“It’s really important that we have to get these redactions right. And unfortunately, that just takes time,” Flores said in an interview on Fox News. “This morning we’re turning over another 3,600 pages. And hopefully that will help members of Congress see that we are absolutely moving through this process, not slow-walking it, and want very much to work with them so that they can have their oversight role.”
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has also turned up pressure on the FBI this week, demanding by Wednesday that the agency turn over the document it used to launch the 2016 investigation of Trump campaign contacts with Russia. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) argued that lawmakers should see an unredacted version of the document, which describes how Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that Russia had obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Though DOJ has removed some redactions from the document, others pertaining to the identity of a foreign country have been kept, according to a sources with knowledge of the document.