WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Oversight and Judiciary committees say their Republican counterparts have cherry-picked from Justice Department documents to promote a misleading narrative about the closed-door questioning of a senior Justice Department official this week, according to a letter released Friday.
Rep. Elijah Cummings and Rep. Jerrold Nadler also are questioning whether GOP lawmakers broke committee rules by using documents turned over to the House intelligence committee to question the official, Bruce Ohr, about his contacts with former British spy Christopher Steele. The Republicans have suggested those contacts were inappropriate.
The documents in question are Ohr's handwritten notes about his interactions with Steele as well as text messages and emails the two exchanged. The documents were provided to the House intelligence committee in response to a March request from Rep. Devin Nunes of California, that panel's Republican chairman.
In their letter , Cummings and Nadler, who are the ranking members of the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, write that Republicans on their committees were reading from the documents during Ohr's interview and using them to create a "highly misleading narrative with factually inaccurate interpretation and conjecture."
In one instance, members read from an email in which Steele wrote to Ohr that he wanted to discuss something with him informally. "It concerns our favourite business tycoon!" he wrote.
Cummings and Nadler write that Republicans members had interpreted the communication to refer to President Donald Trump, an assertion echoed in some recent press reports. But during his interview, Ohr told the committee Steele was referring to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin and once employed Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, as a consultant.
Nadler and Cummings said that none of the documents used by the Republican members were included in the more than 800,000 pages of documents provided to them by the Justice Department as part of their investigation.
They're asking that Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte schedule a bipartisan meeting with the Justice Department to discuss the sensitivity of the documents, which they say contain details about a confidential human source.
They're also asking that Republicans turn over all of the documents they've obtained to their Democratic counterparts.
A spokeswoman for Gowdy said he had reviewed the documents as a member of the intelligence committee but had never shared them with "a single individual" outside of that committee.
"If members have concerns sensitive information was released, they should raise their concerns with (the intelligence committee) and/or the Ethics Committee," said Amanda Gonzalez.
A House Judiciary Committee aide said the documents addressed in the Democrats' letter were not part of the Judiciary panel's records and the committee did not provide any of the records to members. The aide declined to be identified because the meeting with Ohr was confidential.
Goodlatte was not present for the interview with Ohr, which was held Aug. 28 during the House's August recess. Seven Republicans and no Democrats traveled to Washington for the meeting.
An aide to Nunes did not have comment.
A Democratic aide on the House intelligence committee said no vote had been taken by that panel to allow the sharing or release of information provided by the Justice Department for Ohr's questioning.
The aide, who wasn't authorized to discuss the committee's confidential work and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would be a violation of committee rules for the Judiciary or Oversight committee Republicans to have used any material shared with the House intelligence committee without such a vote.