This week... an epic tug of war is underway between Congress and an agency it oversees. The Justice Department has been withholding key documents, including internal memos by former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. The memos memorialize conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey. According to the New York Times, they also reveal Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein talked about wearing a wire to secretly record President Trump. Rosenstein denied that (add whatever happens Thursday). All the efforts to pierce the resistance within the Justice Department and FBI might not amount to much if it weren’t for a group in the House of Representatives known as The Freedom Caucus. Today, we speak to Freedom Caucus leader Congressman Mark Meadows.
Meadows: We’re coming up on almost a year now, where the initial request made to the Department of Justice and the FBI said ‘we want relevant documents as it relates to the investigations before the 2016 presidential term. We just wanna know if indeed all of this was going on, was there a political bias that really infiltrated the Department of Justice and FBI.
Sharyl: It’s not the entire Congress, nor even all Republicans who are pursuing oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI with so much vigor. It’s largely a result of pressure from the Freedom Caucus, which Congressman Mark Meadows has led since last year.
Meadows: We've got to make sure that not only do the American people get to see these documents— they're their documents— but that we don't elevate the Department of Justice, the FBI, to a point where they think that they're an independent agency. They're not, they're part of the executive branch, oversight of that comes before Congress, and we need to press forward.
Meadows: I can't remember a time that I've been covering Washington, D.C. where there's been such a conflict of interest with the intelligence agencies, including the FBI, being in the position of withholding or turning over documents relevant to investigations about themselves. THEY say, in a nutshell, that Congress is improperly seeking information on ongoing investigations. That you have no business looking at.
Meadows: Yeah. Well, that's their default, they do that, and then they suggest that there are documents that would actually hamper national security efforts.
Meadows: I think you’re parsing words – I’ll go back , I’ll go back
Congressman Bob Goodlatte: The witness will answer the question.
Sharyl: It’s not just documents. The FBI’s former head of counterespionage Peter Strzok is among the officials who have also held back on answering some questions under oath, arguing it would jeopardize an “ongoing investigation.”
Strzok: Based on the direction of the FBI to me, based on that I will not answer that question.
Sharyl: Strzok was removed from the Trump-Russia collusion probe after his extensive, vitriolic messages against Trump were discovered on his work devices, and he was fired in August.
Meadows: We're at a fundamental, pivotal time in our nation's history. If we allow DOJ and the FBI to hold documents, then we will allow secrecy to prevail for decades to come. And so that's why this fight is so critical. And why the American people should be concerned.
Sharyl: Congressman Meadows and the man who led the Freedom Caucus before him, Jim Jordan, spearheaded an effort to remove Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for withholding documents.
Jordan: You’ve got seven days to get your act together.
Sharyl: That’s Jordan questioning Rosenstein at a June hearing.
Jordan: Mr. Rosenstein why are you keeping information from Congress?
Rosenstein: Mr. Congressman I am not keeping any information from Congress
Jordan: In a few minutes Mr. Rosenstein I think the House of Representatives is gonna say something different.
Rosenstein: I don’t agree with you Congressman, I don’t believe that’s what they’re going to say and if they do they’ll be mistaken
Jordan: I disagree
Sharyl: The timing might be purely coincidental, but just a week after that contentious exchange, Jordan found himself under attack on multiple fronts, accused of turning a blind eye to alleged sexual abuse that happened decades ago at Ohio State when he was a wrestling coach. He denies it.
Meadows: Do you worry being in your position as maybe many public figures do now that you could either be attacked through tactics from intelligence agencies, our own — or even from protesters who want to follow around politicians and harass them out of restaurants and so on?
Meadows: Am I concerned? The answer is yes. You know better than most what the power of the federal government can and can't do. Seeing some of the things that I get to see in the long arm of the very powerful government, it needs to be held in check.
Sharyl: There are about three dozen Freedom Caucus members— far from a majority in the House of Representatives but enough of a voting block to have an impact. And believe it or not, they won’t even tell Republican leaders the names of all their members.
Sharyl: Why don't you give the full roster?
Meadows: Mainly because we get really retribution from some in our own party. We get on blacklists in terms of fundraising. Our bills don't normally see the light of day.
Sharyl: How would you explain to the public that Republicans hold the House, the Senate and the presidency, but I don't think most people will say they've gotten a lot of things done that they would imagine that they would do if they're actually in charge?
Meadows: I don't know that you can explain that, Sharyl. The American people were asked this last time in November of 2016, where if you just give us the White House, the House, and the Senate, we’ll be able to do all the things that we promised. And I can tell you that we've had more action come from the White House than we have from Congress. I was a business guy. I only got paid for results. Here in Washington DC, they get paid for chatter.
Sharyl: What's your relationship with House Speaker Paul Ryan? Didn't you have a conflict with him recently?
Meadows: Yeah, a few months ago we had a little dust up. That was what I call passionate advocacy.
Sharyl: That’s Meadows on the left arguing with Speaker Ryan on the right.
Meadows: It was a pretty heated exchange. In fact, I can tell you that what was shared with me, what was going to be in an immigration bill, what they not only told me that was gonna be in there, they confirmed that it was going to be in there, that I ended up having to read the fine print of the bill to find out it wasn't in there.
Sharyl: So wait, your own leadership misled you or lied to you?
Meadows: Yeah, they "misled" is the kindest word I can put.
Sharyl: What was is it that Meadows says Republican leaders “misled” him about? He says he was promised the bill helping illegal immigrants who came to the US as children, would also include increased border security, and a guarantee that Congress would be the authority over any unanswered questions in the law—not the president or the courts.
Sharyl: He says something similar happened last January when Congress decided re-upped “FISA” our intelligence agencies’ power to wiretap. Many Democrats and Republicans wanted to add more protection against abuse of U.S. citizens. But at the 11th hour, Republican leadership pushed for a vote without the reforms.
Meadows: And now what we're seeing is some of the FISA abuses, as it relates to the whole Russia collusion narrative, were really abuses. I just found it very disappointing
Sharyl: Congressman Ryan declined our interview request and is not running for re-election. It’s worth noting that other Republicans have credited him with strong, effective leadership.
Sharyl: Can you explain to people how if you go against your own leadership, and this is true in both the Democrat Party and the Republican Party, you can't get an important position on a committee? You can't get your bills considered? You're pretty much worthless. Is that true?
Meadows: Well, it has been true. they don't allow you to truly have an impact on your legislation or other aspects of that. Now, I say that, because we've been able to come together as the Freedom Caucus tactically, we're able to apply pressure, and so we're able to negotiate and get a number of items there.
Sharyl: What do you define as the swamp, and do you think the swamp is real?
Meadows: The swamp is definitely real. The swamp is really an embedded group of bureaucrats that— they never change regardless of a Democrat or Republican president being in office. In fact you can come in with 3,000, 4,000 political appointees and it will not change a thing because the swamp is going to continue to go in one direction.