House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes threatened late Tuesday to "impeach" FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if they fail to turn over the document that in 2016 launched the FBI's probe of Russian contacts with the Trump campaign.
"We're not going to just hold in contempt, we will have a plan to hold in contempt and impeach," Nunes said on Fox News.
Nunes is furious with the agencies over attempts to obtain the two-page document the FBI used to initiate its probe of the Trump campaign's Russia contacts. That document, which the New York Times reported on in December, revealed that the probe was launched over an intelligence tip that George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy aide, had revealed to an Australian diplomat that Russia had obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The revelation undercut claims that the investigation had been launched as a result of a disputed dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele, whose work was funded indirectly by the Clinton campaign and has been rejected by Trump as a fiction. President Donald Trump and the House Intelligence Committee later confirmed the Russia probe began at the FBI because of Papadopoulos when they released a formerly classified memo in February.
But Nunes says the FBI has refused to turn over an unredacted version of the Papadopoulos document, despite a subpoena and demands stretching back to August. He set a new deadline for Wednesday and said he told Fox's Laura Ingraham that the decision on contempt and impeachment would depend on whether Wray and Rosenstein met the new deadline.
A move to impeach two top officials at the Justice Department -- both appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate -- would be an extraordinary confrontation between Congress and federal law enforcement. Several of Nunes' colleagues have endorsed holding Rosenstein and Wray in contempt of Congress -- and some have called for their removal -- but impeachment by Congress would be a further escalation. Such a move had not, as of late Tuesday, been considered by Speaker Paul Ryan, who would need to green-light any attempt to advance such a move.
A source familiar with the matter said Nunes had not spoken with Ryan about his plans as of Tuesday afternoon.
"I don't think we're going to get there. I think they're going to give us the documents," he said.
He also acknowledged that a final call would have to be made by Ryan, since contempt requires a vote of Congress. Ryan has backed Nunes' demands for documents from DOJ in the past, but he's stopped short of some of the harsher criticism leveled by GOP colleagues and said in January he saw no cause for removing Rosenstein from his job.
Nunes on Tuesday refused to tell reporters at the Capitol whether he intended to seek contempt for the two senior Justice Department officials, saying a reporter should have asked him why he wants the Papadopoulos document in the first place. Nunes declined to answer that question as well.
"I'm just trying to coach you on how to get out of the fake news realm," he said, adding, "I'll answer the question all day long but you don't ask real questions."
A handful of other GOP lawmakers indicated they were open to the notion of contempt for Rosenstein and Wray, though they didn't mention the prospect of impeachment.
"They basically are stonewalling us and they have no right to be stonewalling us," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who said he believes top officials are "covering for one another" by refusing Congress' document request.
King noted that there's always been tension between Congress and the intelligence community but said he believes it's worsened because "we're hitting them hard" over "some real transgressions" that GOP lawmakers have described.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said House investigators on multiple committees have become frustrated by the Justice Department's failure to turn over documents.
"We've begged, we've pleaded, we've asked, we've sent multiple letters," he said. "What we get are phone calls and excuses."