Facing renewed criticism from President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tasked the U.S. attorney in Chicago with overseeing the Justice Department’s response to a congressional request for documents on some of its most high-profile investigations and decisions.
Sessions and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray asked U.S. Attorney John Lausch, whom Trump picked to lead the U.S. attorney’s office in the Northern District of Illinois, over the weekend if he would supervise the Justice Department’s handing over of materials to Congress on the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the investigation of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the firing of Andrew McCabe from the FBI.
The Justice Department is expected to formally announce the move Monday.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) had issued a subpoena last month for the documents, saying that the Justice Department was taking too long to hand them over. On Saturday, Trump suggested the reason for the delay might be nefarious.
“What does the Department of Justice and FBI have to hide? Why aren’t they giving the strongly requested documents (unredacted) to the HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE? Stalling, but for what reason? Not looking good!” the president wrote on Twitter.
The appointment of a U.S. attorney outside D.C. to supervise the production of Justice Department documents is an unusual step, although so is Trump’s criticism. The president could order the Justice Department to turn over materials to Congress, and he could declassify documents at will.
Department leaders hope Lausch will be viewed as an independent outsider who would not hold back documents to protect those at the FBI or the Justice Department. A longtime federal prosecutor, Lausch worked at a law firm in Chicago before he was appointed U.S. attorney.
“The Attorney General and FBI Director understand the concerns of members of Congress and the President about the pace of production and level of redactions in the documents already received by the Committee,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. “They agree that the Department and the FBI should accommodate the Committee’s request in a timely fashion and in the fullest manner consistent with the Department’s law enforcement and national security responsibilities.”
She added: “By appointing Mr. Lausch to oversee this specific document production, our goal is to assure Congress, the President, and the American people that the FBI is going to produce the relevant documents and will do so completely and with integrity and professionalism.”
The FBI had announced late last month that it was doubling, from 27 to 54, the number of staff members working on fulfilling requests from Goodlatte, allowing them to cover two shifts per day, from 8 a.m. to midnight.