The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee attempted to get a jump-start on the oversight authority he will wield when he inherits the gavel next year, telling the heads of the FBI and Justice Department that he expects them to fully respond to outstanding requests from Democrats before they assume the majority.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stopped short of issuing a threat, subpoena or otherwise, in demanding that acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray respond by the end of the year to committee Democrats who have written to ask for documents and other information. But the letter serves as a reminder nonetheless, that committee Democrats plan to hit the ground running in January — and offers a hint of where they will focus their attention.
The requests pertain to former attorney general Jeff Sessions’s recusal from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, as well as inconsistencies in testimony he delivered to Congress; the circumstances surrounding the release of a memo drafted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) alleging that the FBI improperly sought to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and the Justice Department’s ethics chief’s take on whether Whitaker should recuse himself from the Mueller probe as well.
That is a sampling from the more than 100 letters that committee Democrats wrote to the Trump administration over the past two years, Nadler wrote to Whitaker and Wray, adding that “to date, we have received no substantive response to these communications.”
Nadler cited “growing concern” with Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the Justice Department — concerns that, for him, include the appointment of Whitaker to take over from Sessions. Nadler has made no secret of his skepticism that Whitaker will oversee the Mueller probe without deferring to Trump, given his past statements advocating that the investigation be either restricted or defunded.
But he largely steered clear of speaking sharply to Whitaker in the letter, focusing his attention on Trump’s actions to threaten the Mueller probe — which the president frequently refers to as a “witch hunt.”
“The House Judiciary Committee has an obligation to examine these actions and assess their impact on both the operation of the Department and the fair administration of justice,” Nadler wrote, stressing that “a complete response” to their letters would be necessary to such an investigation. He urged Whitaker and Wray to “work with me and other members” to address the “backlog” of unanswered requests by Dec. 31.