Thousands of FBI docs related to 2016 investigations turned over to House

Joint congressional probe announced in October

Chip Somodevilla/2007 Getty Images

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Thousands of pages of internal FBI documents related to the bureau's decisions emanating from the 2016 election were delivered to congressional investigators Monday, officials said -- the latest document handover in a six-month-old probe that has proved frustrating for Republicans up to President Donald Trump.

The delivery comes amid a chorus of complaints that the Justice Department and FBI are working too slowly to produce the documents for the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. The Justice Department Monday also said it was designating a sitting US attorney to oversee the process.

"What does the Department of Justice and FBI have to hide?" Trump tweeted on Saturday. "Slow walking - what is going on? BAD!"

The joint congressional probe, announced in October, is examining the moves made by the FBI as it investigated Hillary Clinton's private email server.

Late last month, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte subpoenaed the Justice Department, criticizing the agency for its responsiveness to the probe and expanding the inquiry to include questions of surveillance abuse and the decision to fire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

In response, FBI Director Christopher Wray doubled the number of FBI personnel assigned to review the records for release to 54. And over the weekend, Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the US attorney in Chicago, John Lausch to oversee the production process.

"Mr. Lausch, who has experience in the Department and in private practice, will ensure that production moves at an acceptable pace and that any redactions are necessary and consistent under the relevant laws and regulations," DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

The Hill investigation in part mirrors a probe currently being conducted by the DOJ's inspector general, Michael Horowitz. He has testified that his office reviewed 1.2 million records as part of its effort, and congressional investigators have requested copies of the same documents.

The versions of records provided to the inspector general's office, however, were not redacted and FBI staff must remove sensitive and classified information, like grand jury material and details of unrelated and ongoing investigations, before turning them over to the congressional committees, Flores said.

As of Monday, roughly 7,600 pages of documents have been produced to the House Judiciary Committee. The redactions, on top of the number of the documents shared, have fueled consternation from lawmakers, who have received productions about every two weeks.

"Part of the document production Congress received on March 30 was on a classified disc. 100% of the substantive material on that disc was redacted," GOP Rep. Mark Meadows tweeted Monday. "You make the call: Do you think this is the Department of Justice's best effort toward cooperation?"

Even the way the documents have been delivered to the House offices, located one mile from the Justice Department, have caused concern.

The records, usually sent at the end of the business week by courier in password-protected CDs, have on multiple occasions been dropped off at the wrong office, a person familiar with production process said.

Couriers have also slipped the discs -- filled with pages of private communications between top FBI officials and other internal documents behind some of the bureau's most controversial decisions -- into after-hours mail slots. On at least two occasions, the deliveries sat for days before any committee staffer knew to receive them.

In a statement, Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy cast doubt on the DOJ's production effort, and expressed skepticism about the move to bring in the US attorney.

"Congress requested these documents months ago," Gowdy said. "Congress has consistently been assured the production was in progress. How is injecting someone new into an ongoing review and production process calculated to expedite the process?"

FBI employees within the Office of the General Counsel work each day in two shifts from 8 a.m. to midnight reviewing the documents, officials said. In an interview last week, the FBI's former top liaison to Congress, Greg Brower, said it was necessary for him to install the additional staffers after "an unprecedented wave of oversight requests."

At the Justice Department, Lausch will have independent authority to oversee the production and will report directly to the attorney general, Flores said.

The move to bring in an outside official to help with a criticized document production is not without precedent.

Drawing heat from congressional committees investigating the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal, the Obama administration brought in an outsider, Steven Reich, to help oversee document production, according to former Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, who worked alongside Reich as the head of the DOJ's Office of Legislative Affairs.

"These document productions, like in litigation, are a massive task. It's not just copying and collating and punching three holes," said Weich, now the dean of the University of Baltimore's law school.

Still, Weich called it "very unusual and troubling that the President would be pressuring the department like this."

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