WASHINGTON (CN) – A House Judiciary Committee bill intended to force the Justice Department to turn over documents the GOP wants on the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 election advanced Tuesday against a backdrop of bitter infighting.
The measure, H.R. 938, was passed by the committee 15-11. The bill’s Republican authors Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio have long argued that both the DOJ and FBI have held back on counterintelligence surveillance reports compiled on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
At first, the resolution only requested “some” documents held by the agencies, but midway through Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Jordan amended the bill, requesting that “all” documents be turned over instead.
The same applies for any “defensive briefings” collected by the FBI or DOJ regarding investigations into Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to the amended bill.
The sudden change in language threw the hearing into several rounds of chaotic debate.
From the outcome of the 2016 election – Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida argued for several minutes over whether Trump “stole the election” – to screaming matches over points of order to booming calls for “parliamentary inquiry!” both sides rounded out the debate with more bickering over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment and ongoing investigation.
The hearing already started off brusquely when Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, slammed Republican lawmakers as “discourteous and unprofessional” for delaying the morning’s legislative markup session by more than an hour.
The delay prompted several Democrats to walk out of the committee room before the meeting was officially convened.
“The constitutional underpinnings of the republic are at stake,” Nadler said.
The resolution proposed seemed more like a veiled attempt by Republicans to thwart or “sabotage” the Special Counsel’s investigation, he said, noting he hesitated to support any request that may “infringe” on a criminal investigation related to the Russia probe or to indictments of former Trump campaign officials.
Those officials include chairman Paul Manafort, Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates; Trump’s former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and others, Nadler noted.
During the hearing, legislators also weighed a proposal by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.
Lieu’s resolution, H.R. 928, requests the president direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to hand over any records which detail the president’s use of his pardoning powers and the process behind it.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN., supported Lieu’s measure while expressing his gratitude for the president’s recent pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year old woman who was serving life in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction.
But that pardon, welcome as it was, carried some irony about it, Cohen said.
“She didn’t get out based on some methodical and objective criteria, she did just the opposite of what Trump dislikes with our visa system: she won the lottery. But the lottery was rigged because she got the attention of Kim Kardashian,” Cohen said. “Kim Kardashian, with a good heart but not a whole lot of appreciation for a system that judges people based on the criteria of their sentence or incarceration…but simply on her heartfelt sympathies for Ms. Johnson, invited her to come win the lottery.”
That runs in direct conflict with the criticism the president has showered on the lottery immigration system in the U.S.
“That’s what the president says… it shouldn’t be a lottery or a ‘rigged system,’” Cohen said. “But he rigged this system. She should have got [the pardon] but so should 10,000 other people.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, also threw support behind Lieu’s measure before emphasizing her skepticism of more controversial pardons Trump has issued since taking office.
Namely, pardons given to former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.
In the previous administration, “extreme vetting” took place for pardon candidates, she said.
“My recollection is there was a massive team of lawyers at the DOJ that vigorously vetted each and every one of the individuals who might have been given a commutation,” she said.
To the best of her knowledge, Arpaio and D’Souza “did not go through that process.”
“This a fair resolution that asks for a simple question of oversight. It is an obligation of this committee,” Jackson Lee said.
It is possible that the bill will be voted on before the House goes to recess next week, but according to a statement Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan gave to reporters following Tuesday’s hearing, it seems “unlikely” a vote will be held before Friday.