(Bloomberg) -- The Justice Department has given Congress memos that former FBI Director James Comey wrote about his meetings with President Donald Trump, averting a potential legal and political standoff, according to a Republican familiar with the arrangement.
Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, confirmed in a statement released Thursday night that the memos had been received and that information Comey allowed to be leaked to a reporter after he was fired by Trump was "clearly marked unclassified."
Republicans have been seeking to spur debate over whether Comey may have violated Justice Department rules by sharing memos with a law school professor, given that department officials had maintained that they hadn’t yet determined whether they contained sensitive or classified material that prevented disclosing them to Congress.
The delivery of the documents to Capitol Hill headed off a subpoena that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia had said he might issue.
A push by Republicans to obtain the memos comes amid the release this week of Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” and interviews in which he portrays the president as a liar and immoral. Some Republicans complain that Comey has been talking about the memos in his book promotion tour even as the Justice Department withheld them from lawmakers.
Some aides to House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary members already had been permitted to read the Comey memos in secure settings.
Comey has said he wrote the memos for the FBI’s files to capture his conversations with Trump. He testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump asked him in February 2017 to shut down the federal investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump fired Comey in May 2017.
In his statement on Thursday night, Cummings said that the memos "provide strong corroborating evidence of everything he said about President Trump."
Goodlatte, joined by Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, wrote a letter Friday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arguing there was no legal basis to withhold the documents.
Rosenstein responded in a letter Monday that “one or more of the memos may relate to an ongoing investigation, may contain classified information, and may report confidential presidential communications, so we have a legal duty to evaluate the legal consequences of providing access to them."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa wrote to Rosenstein in January that at least one of the four memos that Comey reportedly provided to the Columbia Law School professor, Daniel Richman, may have contained information now being marked "classified."
Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on House Judiciary, said in a statement that he suspects Republicans were trying to manufacture a reason to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if he failed to turn over the memos.
Rosenstein has become a target of criticism by Trump and Republican lawmakers because he appointed Mueller as special counsel and oversees his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 president campaign, whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it and whether Trump sought to obstruct the investigation.
Nadler said a conflict over the memos could give Trump “the pretext he has sought to replace Mr. Rosenstein with someone willing to do his bidding and end the special counsel’s investigation.”
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