FBI Won't Tell Congress What It Knows About Comey's Firing, Senator Claims

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley arrives for a committee hearing on July 27. Grassley claimed on September 25 that the FBI was holding certain information “hostage” from congressional investigators. Drew Angerer/Getty

Before discussing the firing of former FBI Director James Comey with federal investigators, the FBI made the investigators promise not to share certain information with members of Congress or their committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman wrote on Monday.

Both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Office of the Special Counsel are investigating Comey's conduct as head of the bureau and his dismissal by President Donald Trump's in May. In two letters the committee made public on Monday, Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the committee, said he had learned that FBI employees only spoke with the Office of the Special Counsel because its members agreed to sign nondisclosure agreements. The agreements said the office must redact information before "any disclosure to Congress, any senator or member of Congress and/or any congresional committee, subcommittee or other congressional establishment," according to Grassley. The senator wrote that by doing this, "the FBI held key information hostage."

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Grassley addressed one letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and the other to Tristan Leavitt, the acting head of the special counsel office. That office is a permanent agency and separate from the effort involving Robert Mueller, the temporary Department of Justice special counsel who is overseeing the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Grassley wrote that the FBI had never before required members of the special counsel office to sign such agreements as part of an investigation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has previously complained about not having access to FBI materials. The Justice Department has blocked requests by the committee to interview Jim Rybicki, Comey's former chief of staff, and Carl Ghattas, the executive assistant director in charge of the bureau's national security branch.

But the Justice Department did provide the committee with redacted transcripts from its interviews with unnamed witnesses connected to the FBI about Comey's actions as director. Those witnesses said that Comey had started drafting a statement "exonerating" Hillary Clinton in the case involving her use of a private email system, before the bureau had interviewed her or completed its investigation. National security experts and former FBI officials are divided about whether Comey broke norms or rules by doing so.

Another congressional panel, the House Intelligence Committee, has also come up against the FBI and the Justice Department. Earlier in September, that committee issued subpoenas requesting that the bureau and the department provide documents related to a largely unverified document about Trump.

In his letter on Monday, Grassley asked the special counsel office to provide the nondisclosure agreements and also notify the committee in the future "of any attempt by any agency under its jurisdiction, in any matter, to obtain an NDA that purports to limit the rights of the committee to obtain information from the OSC." He also asked that the FBI explain to the committee why it sought the nondisclosure agreements.

Also on Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee requested information from the CIA related to Russian meddling in the election. The committee is one of three congressional panels looking into the Russia matter.

A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment, saying it would provide any response to the Senate Judiciary Committee. A spokesperson for the Office of the Special Counsel also declined to comment.