A vocal bloc of House conservatives are fuming at Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) behind the scenes, after the lame-duck speaker publicly sided with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) in the debate over the FBI’s tactics in its investigation into the Trump campaign.
Gowdy shot down allegations last week that the FBI improperly used a confidential informant to “spy” on the campaign, saying that the bureau “did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.”
Ryan on Wednesday called Gowdy’s assessment “accurate,” dealing another blow to the claims dubbed “spygate” by President Trump
But Trump allies on Capitol Hill say Gowdy, a former prosecutor, defended the FBI before reviewing key underlying documents — and they are furious that Ryan has backed him.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a freshman who has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the FBI, blasted Ryan for the statement on Thursday, calling his support of the bureau “shameful.”
House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called Ryan’s decision “frustrating.”
“I don’t know how you can reach that conclusion based on the history of the FBI,” he told The Hill.
Another House Republican familiar with the concerns also fumed about Ryan’s statement.
“It is very frustrating when leadership indicates that they are supportive of a statement that the FBI didn’t do anything wrong,” the lawmaker told The Hill.
Gaetz, Jordan and a handful of other conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill have gone to war with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in recent months, accusing the law enforcement agency of corruption and anti-Trump bias during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Gowdy — who, like Ryan, is retiring — has supported some of those efforts while carefully distancing himself from some of the more outlandish allegations.
Ryan has largely stayed out of the fray, at least publicly, but he has leant his weight to efforts by GOP lawmakers to wrest access to documents related to the ongoing investigation.
His remarks on Wednesday were the most direct repudiation he has offered of Trump allies’ efforts to investigate the Justice Department.
Other House Republicans have largely stayed silent on the dispute over the informant. One other retiring member, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), on Wednesday ripped the notion that the use of the informant was a conspiracy against the president, suggesting that its champions only want to “create more chaos.”
Justice Department and intelligence community representatives briefed Gowdy and Ryan along with other top lawmakers about the bureau’s use of the informant late last month. But the lawmakers’ request to view the underlying documents related to the source remains unmet.
Critics of the Justice Department say the law enforcement agency has dragged its feet on congressional requests for information on a host of issues — requests that Democrats have slammed as politically motivated and the DOJ has said could expose sensitive sources and methods.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Ryan was not asked — and did not volunteer any comments — about the criticism. But the Speaker suggested congressional Republicans were making more progress in obtaining answers from the DOJ because of his personal involvement.
“Honestly, it’s our job to conduct oversight over every department in the executive branch but especially departments like the Department of Justice that affect our civil liberties,” Ryan said at his weekly press briefing.
“So that is why you’ve seen frustration. Frustration that the foot dragging by the Department of Justice should not be tolerated. And so it’s funny: Because I’ve gotten involved as Speaker of the House is why we’ve gotten as far as we’ve gotten,” he said.
The same senior lawmakers who attended the briefing on the informant will be given access to some documents in a follow-on briefing next week, a Justice Department official revealed this week.
Jordan on Wednesday evening pointed to Ryan’s support for their efforts to obtain documents, if not their use of the term “spy” to describe the informant’s role.
“I do think the speaker in his statement said that he wants the documents produced,” Jordan said, stating that Ryan “needs to give a deadline” for documents.
Gowdy turned heads during multiple television appearances last week, after the briefing, where he stated unequivocally that the FBI acted properly in its use of the informant.
“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” Gowdy said on Fox News.
Gowdy then told CBS News he had seen no evidence to support Trump’s claims that a “spy” was improperly inserted into his 2016 campaign, saying he has “never heard the term ‘spy’ used” in the criminal justice system.
A third Republican present in the briefings, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has also backed Gowdy’s assessment.
Gaetz, Jordan and several other House conservatives acutely critical of the DOJ were not present.
There is no public evidence that the FBI’s use of a confidential informant — common in counterintelligence and criminal investigations — was improper.
Several Republican lawmakers involved in the dispute said Gowdy’s remarks have been overblown to suggest a complete exoneration of the FBI’s conduct during the 2016 campaign.
“I think Trey was talking about something very specific that has been interpreted as something much more broad,” one of the lawmakers said. “I think he was talking about a particular point of time with a particular piece of information that the FBI had and under the umbrella of a criminal investigation.”
But, Jordan said Tuesday, Gowdy and others are mistaken to “take the FBI’s word for it in a briefing that they are doing everything right.”
“I just don’t buy it,” he said.
Scott Wong contributed.