WASHINGTON — It has been more than a year since former-FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in charge of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and now U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has some questions for the FBI.
In a letter sent Monday addressed to current FBI Director Christopher Wray, Johnson, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, wrote that the “committee recently received documents that contain several references to a ‘sensitive matter,’ which appear from the context to refer to the memorandum prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele (Steele Dossier). I write to request information about the FBI’s handling of this matter.”
The “Steele Dossier” is a private intelligence report that implies some type of relationship between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
So far the Mueller investigation has led to several indictments and guilty pleas from members of the Trump campaign.
Johnson said that according to the documents the committee received, “the FBI appeared to have had awareness in January 2017 that media outlets had information about the Steele Dossier.”
In the letter Johnson lays out a timeline of events based on the documents received by the committee.
Jan. 6, 2017:
- FBI Chief of Staff Jim Rybicki sent an email to unspecified recipients stating “the director is coming into HQ briefly now for an update from the sensitive matter team.”
Jan. 6, 2017:
- Then-FBI Director James Comey met with President-elect Trump.
Jan. 7, 2017:
- Director Comey memorialized his discussion with President-elect Trump via email to senior FBI leadership. Director Comey wrote, “I said there was something that (Director of National Security James) Clapper wanted me to speak to PE (President Elect) about alone or in a very small group.” Director Comey wrote, “I then executed the session exactly as I had planned,” and “I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook.”
Jan. 8, 2017:
- The FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe sent an email to senior FBI leadership with the subject line “Flood is coming.” Mr. McCabe wrote, “CNN is close to going forward with the sensitive story … The trigger for them (CNN) is they know the material was discussed in the brief and presented in an attachment.”
Jan. 8, 2017:
- Mr. McCabe emailed then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and then-Principal Deputy Attorney General Matthew Axelrod with the subject line “News.” Mr. McCabe wrote, Just an FY, and as expected, it seems CNN is close to running a story about the sensitive reporting.”
Jan. 10, 2017:
- CNN published a story entitled “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.” The article explained that the President-elect received the briefing on the contents of the Steele Dossier.
Jan. 10, 2017:
- BuzzFeed News published the contents of the Steele Dossier.
Johnson is asking Wray for the members of the “sensitive matter team” and wants to know when the FBI knew CNN may have had the Steele Dossier. He also wants any notes, memoranda or written material created in preparation on the briefing of then-President-elect Trump about the Steele Dossier.
Johnson also asked for “documents and communications between or among FBI employees and other Executive Branch officials or employees referring or relating to the ‘sensitive matter’ or to Director Comey’s communication to then-President-elect Trump about the existence of the Steele Dossier.”
Johnson has been critical of the investigation into Russian interference, including telling The Journal Times Editorial Board in October that he thought Mueller “should resign“ because of conflicts of interest, and saying the investigations by the Senate and House should have been concluded before a special counsel was assigned.
Johnson has since said Mueller is “a man of integrity” but the investigation needs to end and “having this over this administration’s head is not a good thing.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., voiced her support for the Mueller investigation and Senate Intelligence Committee, “which just last week confirmed what our American intelligence community concluded in January 2017 — Russian President Vladimir Putin directed an attack on our democracy that interfered with our elections.”