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Unique: Justice Division and Home Republicans in standoff over FBI witness testimony | CNN Politics



The Justice Division has directed an FBI particular agent to not testify earlier than the Republican-led Home Judiciary Committee in a dispute over the agent’s request to have each his private lawyer and a Justice Division legal professional current throughout his deposition, a supply aware of the matter tells CNN.

In a letter obtained solely by CNN, the division on Wednesday accused the Republican-led committee of “unnecessary escalation” of a routine matter, because the Biden administration and Home Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, a Republican, battle over GOP claims that the FBI performed a job in social media suppressing a story about Hunter Biden’s laptop computer in 2020.

At challenge is whether or not Elvis Chan, an FBI particular agent whose work focuses on cybersecurity and international affect on social media, will be pressured to be deposed earlier than Congress with out being accompanied by each a Justice Division legal professional and his private lawyer.

That is the primary time since Republicans took over the Home this yr that DOJ has directed an worker to not seem earlier than Congress beneath subpoena, opening the door for the committee to maneuver ahead with holding Chan in contempt of Congress.

“Every little thing is on the desk for Mr. Chan, together with contempt,” Judiciary spokesperson Russell Dye instructed CNN.

In its letter to the committee, DOJ argues that beneath the legislation, authorities staff are allowed to be accompanied by company attorneys throughout a congressional deposition. The letter says that Chan wouldn’t cooperate with the panel’s subpoena until a DOJ legal professional is allowed to accompany him alongside together with his private legal professional.

However the Republican-led committee claims that beneath Home guidelines, Chan can’t have each counsels current for a deposition. A line included in Home Judiciary guidelines stipulates {that a} witness could also be “accompanied at a deposition by two designated private, nongovernmental attorneys to advise them of their rights.”

That rule contradicts a 2019 authorized memo from the Justice Division’s Workplace of Authorized Counsel stating that Congress might not constitutionally prohibit company counsel from accompanying company staff referred to as to testify about issues that doubtlessly contain data protected by govt privilege.

The dispute might arrange a separation of powers standoff over which takes precedent – Home guidelines or Justice Division authorized opinion.

Chan is the primary DOJ witness attempting to deliver each company and private counsel to an interview beneath this Congress, however there are various examples of this taking place within the final Congress when the Home was beneath Democratic management, two sources aware of the matter inform CNN.

“No person who has ever been subpoenaed who requested company counsel has ever been denied company counsel,” a senior Democratic aide aware of congressional investigations instructed CNN.

Jordan has needed to talk to Chan for months as a part of Home Republicans’ investigations of what they declare is government-ordered censorship, together with allegations that Chan instructed Twitter to dam customers from sharing a 2020 New York Put up story containing materials from a laptop computer belonging to Hunter Biden.

The DOJ and the Republican-led Judiciary Committee have been going forwards and backwards for months over securing Chan’s testimony. Chan was supposed to look voluntarily earlier than the committee on September 15. However when the panel came upon Chan was planning to deliver each his company and private counsel, the interview fell aside and the committee promptly issued a subpoena.

Larry Berger, an legal professional representing Chan, says that his consumer has from the start requested that two attorneys be current throughout his interview – a non-public legal professional to symbolize his private pursuits and an company counsel to symbolize the pursuits of the Justice Division and the FBI.

“There isn’t any motive in logic or legislation that permits the committee to refuse his private alternative,” Berger instructed CNN. “That is an totally arbitrary determination with out foundation in legislation or rule.”

Berger has represented federal brokers in dozens of interviews through the years with congressional committees and says Chan’s request is normal and it has by no means been a difficulty for different witnesses in congressional investigations.

“Mr. Chan stays prepared, keen and in a position to present up on a voluntary foundation to offer the knowledge they need,” Berger added. “We respect the function of Congress however they shouldn’t be interfering with alternative of counsel.”

Regardless of telling Chan to not present up for Thursday’s deposition, the Justice Division acknowledged in its October 3 letter that it’s going to nonetheless make Chan accessible to testify voluntarily together with his company and private counsel current.

In February, former Twitter executives acknowledged to lawmakers that the social media firm erred when it quickly suppressed a New York Put up story relating to Hunter Biden’s laptop computer in October 2020, however the officers emphasised there was no authorities involvement within the determination

A CNN investigation final yr discovered no proof that the FBI explicitly instructed Twitter to suppress the story. The truth is, the other view emerged from sworn testimony given by Chan. And in interviews with CNN, half a dozen tech executives and senior workers, together with a number of federal officers aware of the matter, all denied any such directive was given.

In its October 3 letter, DOJ argued {that a} congressional subpoena pertaining to a authorities worker’s official duties “can’t constitutionally be enforced” with out the presence of company counsel.

Within the letter, DOJ Assistant Lawyer Basic Carlos Felipe Uriarte added that “the underlying ideas that inform the Division’s place are longstanding throughout administrations. Each different Division worker who has appeared earlier than the Committee throughout this Congress has appeared with company counsel.”

In his subpoena letter to Chan final month, Jordan contended, “the Structure affords the Home the authority to find out its personal guidelines and procedures.”

The committee argued that its curiosity in Chan deviates from company pursuits, and that having company counsel might hinder the interview.

“The Committee has data that means you weren’t totally candid in your sworn deposition in federal litigation—a deposition throughout which you have been represented by Division counsel and a matter by which you face private legal responsibility in a way that departs from the FBI’s and Division’s institutional pursuits,” Jordan wrote in his subpoena letter.

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