Schiff: Deal over FBI source an ‘erosion’ of Justice Department’s independence

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is pointing to a recent agreement between Justice Department officials and the White House to investigate the use of a confidential source sent to speak with Trump campaign aides as an attack on the department’s independence.

“We’re seeing an erosion of the independence of the Justice Department,” California Rep. Adam Schiff told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill. “That is gravely concerning.”

After a meeting at the White House Monday, top officials at the Justice Department, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence agreed to share highly classified information with lawmakers related to the Russia investigation amid an escalating controversy over the bureau’s use of a confidential intelligence source during the 2016 presidential campaign. This comes after House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, subpoenaed the DOJ for documents related to the confidential FBI source and has threatened to hold Justice officials in contempt of Congress.

The Justice Department had up to this point resisted calls to turn over the information that congressional Republicans have requested on the source, saying it would pose a grave risk to the source’s life and could deter future sources from cooperating.

“I certainly have concerns as to why this decision was made,” Schiff told CNN Tuesday.

“This is information that the Justice Department and FBI already expressed grave concerns about in terms of potential risks to people’s lives, in terms of jeopardizing relationships with allies or compromising the investigation.”

Schiff questioned the timing of the Justice Department’s decision to meet the White House’s demands and if the White House meeting was “merely the result of presidential intervention to try to obtain these materials for the Trump legal defense team.”

The California Democrat also expressed concern over whether there would be a White House presence in the meeting between lawmakers and intelligence officials.

If so, Schiff said, “it would be a hugely inappropriate and abuse of power to be pushing for this release of closely held information to the Congress if it’s really just about providing it to the White House and the President’s lawyers.”

After recent reports that an intelligence source had met with his campaign officials in the leadup to the election, Trump demanded on Sunday that the DOJ “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

Later Sunday, the DOJ responded by asking its inspector general to examine Trump’s allegations.