House Republicans have lost the majority, but they're not giving up the bullhorn they've used to challenge the Russia probe narrative.
Amid the frenzied anticipation over the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee has made a mission of publishing a slew of transcripts from closed-door interviews by the panel dating back to the GOP majority. Last week, Ranking Member Doug Collins, R-Ga., unilaterally published hundreds of pages from interviews with former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, containing juicy details about the anti-Trump so-called "insurance policy" (concerning the Russia probe), their affair and even the steps DOJ officials allegedly took to avoid serious charges for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 email investigation.
And that's just the start.
“There’s plenty more—at least 20 or more transcripts as part of this investigation,” Collins told Fox News in an interview this week. “We’re going through, not in a set order, but we want to make sure they’re ready to go.”
Earlier this month, Collins released the transcript of an interview with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who provided information to the FBI regarding Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, works for the firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous anti-Trump dossier.
It is unclear, at this point, which transcripts Collins will release next. Collins explained that his staff is making sure there are “no problems” with the transcripts that would reveal "any sources or methods.”
“There is no classified information here … and I’m not editorializing these transcripts,” he said. “We’re just putting them out there as is, so that [the American people] can look at questions, how they were asked and answered, and how this developed the narrative.”
The committee saw a number of high-profile Justice Department and FBI officials behind closed doors during the last Congress, receiving testimony from officials like Nellie Ohr, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and former FBI counsel James Baker, among others.
Collins' decision to publish such transcripts, even when in the minority, is not unprecedented.
Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released hundreds of pages of transcripts from a closed-door interview with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson.
Her move prompted harsh criticism from Republicans on the committee, with a spokesman for former committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, calling it “totally confounding” that she would “unilaterally release a transcript of a witness interview in the middle of an ongoing investigation.”
Feinstein said she regretted not speaking to Grassley beforehand, blaming her decision on a “bad cold.”
Former House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, now a Fox News contributor, explained the significance of a ranking member taking this sort of action.
“Generally, it is the prerogative of the chairman to make those decisions. In my experience, it is highly unusual for the ranking member to do that unilaterally,” Chaffetz told Fox News over the phone on Wednesday. The chairman on the House Judiciary Committee is Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., whose office did not respond to requests for comment for this report.
“The fact that Chairman Nadler hasn’t said anything publicly seems to be a tacit approval,” Chaffetz said, calling Collins a “very responsible person.”
Chaffetz went on to explain that typically, transcripts from closed-door depositions or transcribed interviews are not allowed to be taken out of committee. He said that if a member or staffer wanted to review a transcript, they would need to go to a specific room to do so but would not have the option to take a copy with them to ensure nothing was released “even innocently.”
“The fact that Collins has them is a clue that the majority is comfortable with having them out there,” Chaffetz said. “It would be difficult for the majority to say no to the release, when they are simultaneously saying that everything should be released.”
He added: “If Doug Collins releases these, it is a pretty hard argument to make that he is doing the wrong thing.”
Meanwhile, Collins defended his move, saying that Nadler (who is pursuing his own sweeping investigation into the Trump administration and campaign) and other Democrats in the majority “really have not said anything about the transcripts.”
“I think they’re struggling with their own agenda right now,” Collins told Fox News. “They haven’t said anything about the transcripts to us, and I think their narrative seems to be falling apart right before their eyes.”
He added: “Things are just not coming to fruition.”
Nadler, however, has defended the work of the FBI in probing the Russia case while stressing the important role his committee can play in digging deeper.
In announcing a new committee investigation earlier this month, he said: “Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms. Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee."