House Speaker Paul D. Ryan insisted on Thursday that there was “no evidence of collusion” between the president or his campaign and Russia, just a day after dismissing Trump’s assertions that federal law enforcement officials had planted a spy in his operation.
“Let’s just make that really clear: There’s no evidence of collusion. This is about Russia and what they did and making sure they don’t do it again,” Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters, in comments excoriating federal law enforcement agencies for not being more forthcoming with documents that lawmakers had requested until Ryan personally intervened.
“It shouldn’t take a speaker of the House to have to get involved every one of these times to get the Department of Justice or any other department to comply with congressional oversight requests,” Ryan complained. “The sooner the Department of Justice complies with all of our document requests, which are legitimate document requests, the better this is going to be for everybody. . . . Had they complied with these document requests earlier when we made them, we probably could have spared the country all of this drama.”
It is not the first time that Ryan has asserted there was no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia. But his emphatic comments stand in sharp contrast to the critical view Ryan took of the president just 24 hours ago, when he stated that he had seen “no evidence” that federal law enforcement officials had planted a spy in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Ryan’s comments about Trump’s spy claims came days after Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) had expressed a similar assessment, and were later echoed by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.). But it was Ryan who took the brunt of the blowback on conservative media, particularly from the GOP faction on Capitol Hill that has been leading the charge against the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation.
“There is no defense today for Paul Ryan siding with the FBI and Department of Justice against those of us in the Congress who are working for transparency and accountability,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on Fox Business Network Wednesday night, adding that Wednesday was “the first time” he had heard conservative colleagues start to talk about replacing Ryan as speaker if he “won’t stand with us in this fight.”
Ryan is retiring at the end of the congressional term.
On Thursday, Gaetz added: “Our leadership should be setting impeachment hearings for those who refuse to produce documents. Instead, some are carrying water for a Justice Department that has already resisted congressional oversight, misrepresented material facts to a FISA court, improperly redacted documents and failed to disclose spying on a presidential campaign. Sad!”
Trump frequently uses the word “sad” in his tweets.
Democrats have charged that the GOP’s complaints with the FBI and the Justice Department are all part of an orchestrated campaign to help the White House discredit the origins of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of alleged links between Trump and Kremlin officials. On Thursday, Trump also launched a fresh wave of attacks against Mueller’s probe — or the “Witch Hunt Hoax,” as he called it — attempting to paint it as “biased and conflicted.”
Trump’s tweets came just hours after the Justice Department announced that it would respond to Republican demands for more information by sending top officials back to Capitol Hill to brief top lawmakers on additional details and documents pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign advisers with suspected links to Russia.
“We received an oral briefing two weeks ago,” Ryan said Thursday. “But what we were asking for and what we require and what we expect were the corroborating documents of that oral briefing.”
Government officials did bring documents to the briefing they held in late May for the Gang of 8 — a bipartisan group of the top congressional leaders and intelligence committee members — on FBI informant Stefan Halper, who had made contact with three Trump campaign advisers the summer before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But no members asked to view them.
On Wednesday, as Ryan discredited Trump’s spy claims, he nonetheless stressed that lawmakers expected other document requests to be fulfilled, noting, “We have some more digging to do.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.