Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee suspect House Republicans leaked to conservative media text messages between the panel's top Democrat and a lobbyist he hoped could connect him with the author of a dossier alleging President Donald Trump has ties to Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner, D-Va., recently raised with Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., their concerns about what appear to be leaks from the House Intelligence Commitee, these people said. Ryan's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said the speaker "heard the senators on their concerns and encouraged them to take them up directly with their counterparts."
A spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-N.C., who chairs the House Intelligence panel, did not respond to a request for comment. Burr would say only that "the vice chairman and I updated the speaker on our investigation and that was the extent of it." He denied that the Senate panel had concluded who was behind the leak and declined to provide further details about the conversation.
Warner and the lobbyist, Adam Waldman, exchanged messages about a year ago. In them, Warner requested help arranging a meeting with Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy who compiled the dossier, a controversial document financed by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Their exchange became the subject of a Fox News report published in February. The report indicated Fox News obtained the texts from an unidentified Republican Party member.
The leak accusation is the latest manifestation of a bitter partisan feud that has consumed the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.
In a brief statement, Warner said "I'm not going to comment, other than the fact that no entity or individual is going to be able to interfere with our bipartisan investigation, we're going to get to the truth."
Waldman's lawyer declined to comment.
According to one official on Capitol Hill, it is clear the House Intelligence Committee leaked the text messages because the version of them published by Fox News did not contain the same page markings appearing on documents Waldman provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In October, Waldman provided the Senate panel with documents detailing the messages' content, according to a person familiar with the matter, who noted the documents Waldman turned over included page numbers. Documents later turned over to the House Intelligence Committee included no page numbers, nor did those appearing with the Fox News report.
When Waldman delivered his materials to the committees, Warner had already told his Senate colleagues that the text messages would be among them, this person said.
After the Fox News report came out, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate committee dismissed it as sensational. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that Warner had "fully disclosed" the text messages to the panel several months prior. "Has had zero impact on our work," Rubio's tweet said.
Speaking Thursday on CNN, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member, said the panel's Republicans "could be the only Party member" of the leaks. He called the leaks "part of a pattern" in which the panel's Republicans have tried "in a very partisan way" to derail the Russia investigation and use a media outlet "of their choice" to publicize material "that we haven't even seen."
The Fox News story was published barely a week after Trump approved the public release of a memo, written by Republicans on Nunes' panel, which charged that the FBI and Justice Department had engaged in various "abuses" in their efforts to secure and repeatedly extend a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser. Chief among the GOP's complaints was that the FBI and Justice Department relied on faulty information from Steele, the dossier's author, to obtain the surveillance warrant.
At the time the Fox News story was published, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee were attempting to get a memo of their own released to the public rebutting several points in the GOP-drafted document - including the charge that federal law enforcement agencies had relied too heavily on the dossier to make their case.
Nunes and other Republican members of the committee have frequently appeared on Fox News to discuss developments in the panel's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is swiftly heading to a close, despite panel Democrats' best effort to continue it.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release its recommendations for improving election security later this month.