Sen. Lindsey O. Graham warned that he will subpoena the Trump administration for evidence supporting the president’s claim that his offices were wiretapped and that he may soon join efforts to hold up the nominee for deputy attorney general.
The South Carolina Republican — one of the chief skeptics of President Trump’s Russia policy — said he will block the nomination of Rod Rosenstein as the No. 2 man at the Justice Department if FBI Director James B. Comey does not clarify on Wednesday whether the bureau is investigating the Trump team’s alleged ties to Russia.
Graham made the statements on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday morning, warning that “Congress is going to flex its muscle” with the Trump administration if it does not provide lawmakers with answers regarding Russia.
“We’ll issue a subpoena to get the information, we’ll hold up the deputy attorney general’s nomination until Congress is provided with information to finally clear the air as to whether or not there was ever a warrant issued against the Trump campaign,” said Graham, who is leading the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of allegations of Trump-Russia ties.
Frustration with Comey is boiling over in the judiciary panel, where Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday night that he would not schedule Rosenstein for a confirmation vote until the FBI director briefs the full panel on Russia. Grassley, along with ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), first requested such a briefing after Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser last month.
Comey contacted Grassley’s office Wednesday morning to schedule a briefing with him for Wednesday afternoon. But according to a spokeswoman for Grassley, that briefing will be limited to just Grassley and Feinstein. The spokeswoman would not speculate on whether such a briefing would be enough for Grassley to rescind his threat and schedule Rosenstein for a vote in committee.
Preventing Rosenstein from starting his job sooner may only hurt those looking to get to the bottom of the matter. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a close Trump ally who served as a campaign adviser, has recused himself from investigating anything related to the president — meaning it would fall to the deputy attorney general to take charge of such inquiries.
Grassley has given Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, the reins of the full committee inquiry into allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections.
Graham argued Wednesday morning that it is vital that he know whether the FBI has an active criminal investigation surrounding Trump so that his inquiry doesn’t get in the way.
“Is there an investigation? Because I need to know before I move forward into investigating Russia from a congressional lense — I don’t want to interfere with a criminal investigation if there is one,” he said. He added, however, that he thinks “the entire country needs to know if there’s something there there.”
Graham said he communicated the Wednesday deadline to Comey during a meeting he and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) held with the FBI director two weeks ago. Since then, he and Whitehouse have sent a formal letter to the Justice Department, asking for any proof that wiretapping warrants were sought, or issued, against Trump and his associates. Trump alleged — without proof — in a recent tweet that President Obama had wiretapped his offices during the presidential campaign.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump is “very confident” that his wiretapping claim will be substantiated, although he acknowledged that Obama did not personally tap Trump’s phones.
“I haven’t heard a thing,” Graham said, adding that if he doesn’t receive that information today, “the Congress is going to ramp up the pressure.”
In the meantime, however, Comey has been making trips to Capitol Hill to brief other lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee and in the “Gang of Eight” — the lawmakers who get Congress’s highest-level intelligence briefings. Comey is also scheduled to return to Capitol Hill on Monday, when he is expected to brief the House Intelligence Committee in an open hearing on issues surrounding allegations of Russian interference in the election.
The House intelligence panel gave the Justice Department an extension until Monday, the day of the open hearing, to answer its letter demanding to see evidence of such wiretaps, before Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is expected to consider subpoenaing the information.
Most members of Congress who have commented on the claims say they do not think there was ever an approved wiretap against Trump, and not a single Intelligence Committee member has said they have seen evidence suggesting the action. Although the intelligence panels are expected to look into the allegations, many have challenged the president to back up his accusation before Congress gets too deeply involved.
“I don’t think there’s a warrant, but I wish they’d tell me one way or the other,” Graham said Wednesday. He added this advice to the president: “If you want to challenge the Congress to do things in the future, we’ll take you up on it.”