WASHINGTON (CN) – Two Republican senators have made the first known criminal referral in congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, targeting the author of a dossier of allegations about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, sent a short letter along with a classified memo to FBI director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying they believed former British spy Christopher Steele violated a federal law in relation to statements he made about the distribution of claims from the 35-page dossier.
Dated Jan. 4, the letter indicates the senators attached a classified memo “related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets regarding the so-called ‘Trump dossier’ that Mr. Steele compiled on behalf of Fusion GPS for the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee and also provided to the FBI.”
The senators contend Steele may have violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which prohibits lying to federal authorities.
“Everyone needs to follow the law and be truthful in their interactions with the FBI,” Grassley said in a statement. “If the same actions have different outcomes, and those differences seem to correspond to partisan political interests, then the public will naturally suspect that law enforcement decisions are not on the up-and-up.”
“Maybe there is some innocent explanation for the inconsistencies we have seen, but it seems unlikely,” Grassley continued. “In any event, it’s up to the Justice Department to figure that out.”
The letter did not explain what inconsistencies the Republican senators found in Steele’s statements.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of three congressional bodies investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The others are the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.
The trio of investigations began in a bipartisan fashion more than a year ago but have since broken down largely along partisan lines.
The minority leader of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was unaware of the criminal referral before it was made.
“I wasn’t consulted about this referral nor were any of my Democratic colleagues,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I think this referral is unfortunate as it’s clearly another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”
The bipartisan split in the congressional investigations has seen Republicans seeking to undermine the credibility of Steele and the firm that hired him to produce the dossier, Fusion GPS. Republicans have also sought to portray Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe as biased and politically motivated.
Democrats meanwhile have defended the integrity of Mueller’s probe and insist that the investigations must be allowed to play out. “I’ll continue to stand strong against any efforts to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, as well as the ongoing congressional investigations,” Feinstein said. “Getting to the bottom of what happened remains a top priority for me, as I hope it does for everyone on the Judiciary Committee.”