Speaker Paul Ryan has been thrust into the middle of an increasingly ugly confrontation between a band of House Republicans and the Justice Department over the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation.
The House GOP leader has said little lately as a faction of President Donald Trump's allies in the House battered the leadership of the Justice Department and its handling of the FBI's long-running probe of Trump campaign ties to Russia.
But this week, the feud landed on his doorstep.
President Donald Trump's allies in the House for months have demanded documents they insist will point toward political bias against the president. But DOJ and FBI officials have resisted.
On Wednesday, just as it seemed the clash was careening toward a constitutional crisis, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray walked into Ryan's office.
Two sources familiar with the meeting say Wray and Rosenstein, who requested the sitdown, pressed Ryan to narrow the scope of a document request by the House Intelligence Committee. Ryan countered, insisting they turn over the full slate.
Eventually, they struck a deal. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes announced the agreement later that night and said it would include access to all documents and witnesses he had sought. DOJ aides have declined to comment on the deal or Nunes' characterization of it.
The two sources told POLITICO there was an effort by Ryan and DOJ leaders to lower the temperature of recent hostilities between the Justice Department and Trump allies in Congress. That group of House Republicans has railed against the department's leadership amid partisan questions about its handling of the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia. Nunes had even threatened contempt citations against DOJ and FBI leaders if they failed to comply with his request.
Still, this probably isn't the end of it for Ryan. There are signs that Wednesday's agreement won’t placate the GOP lawmakers most hostile toward the Justice Department. And so the speaker is likely to be in the middle of ongoing run-ins between some of his hard-line members and the DOJ as they fight over what are typically closely guarded documents — from surveillance warrants to evidence connected to ongoing investigations.
Indeed, Ryan's work to help broker a truce suggests he'll be a central figure in resolving disputes that Democrats and some Republicans fear could erode public confidence in the justice system.
On Thursday morning, just hours after the tentative détente, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to be replaced unless he exerts more control over the FBI and produces documents Congress has been requesting.
"It is time for Sessions to start managing in a spirit of transparency to bring all of this improper behavior to light and stop further violations," they wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner.
Though Ryan hasn't waded publicly into each of these fights, multiple GOP lawmakers say the speaker's attitude has been consistent: He firmly believes in the House's authority to conduct oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI.
"The House of Representatives has a constitutional duty to exercise oversight of the executive branch," said the spokeswoman, AshLee Strong. "The speaker always expects the administration to comply with the House’s oversight requests, and he will support his chairmen when they make them."
Rosenstein and Wray "wasted a trip to the Capitol," said one Republican lawmaker close to the speaker. "Once Paul assures himself that the request is legitimate and there is a reason for it, he always backs the chairperson who asks for it."
Democrats have said that the GOP attacks on the Justice Department — and Special Counsel Robert Mueller in particular — are a cynical attempt to protect Trump as investigations of his campaign's ties to Russia encroached upon his inner circle. The document requests and claims of bias, they've argued, are aimed at delegitimizing the investigation.
Republican lawmakers themselves are divided about how harsh an approach to take toward the FBI and Justice Department. But in interviews, some House lawmakers say Ryan has hit upon a unifying theme within the conference: transparency.
"Paul Ryan is an institutionalist," said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who's been among the most aggressive critics of Justice Department leaders' handling of the Trump-Russia probe. "I believe he shares our frustration with the lack of responsiveness."
"Perhaps there have been several different camps in terms of how aggressive people should be ... but those camps are all coming together with one singular focus, which comes down on the side of needing more documents, more transparency," added another GOP lawmaker who requested anonymity to characterize conversations with colleagues.
"I think there was a lot of division a few months ago, but the more the GOP members find out ... the more there is an aligning of investigative strategies and tactics," the lawmaker said.
Ryan has said little publicly on the matter since October, when he chided DOJ for its refusal to cooperate with congressional investigators demanding more information about how the FBI handled its Trump-Russia investigation.
"When the executive branch, in this case, the FBI and the DOJ are stonewalling or foot-dragging, that makes it harder for us to do our job of conducting oversight on the executive branch," he vented in an interview with Reuters at the time.
Since then, some Trump loyalists in the House have ratcheted up their complaints. First, they took aim at Mueller, who was tapped by Rosenstein in May to oversee the Trump-Russia investigation after the president fired FBI Director James Comey. Mueller's team, they complained, included officials who had donated to Democrats, which they said raised the specter of bias.
That group of Republicans close with Trump — including Gaetz, Jordan, Meadows and Ron DeSantis — also pounced on reports that Mueller had removed a top agent from his team in July after learning of a series of text messages criticizing Trump that he had sent to a colleague.
At the same time, some more traditional Republicans on the intelligence, judiciary and oversight panels also began more quietly question the FBI’s tactics in the Russia probe, though did not allege bias or corruption necessarily. Last month, POLITICO also reported that Nunes and other Republicans on the House intelligence committee had been working on a probe they say could spotlight wrongdoing by top officials in the FBI.