The Justice Department has agreed to let the Senate judiciary committee interview two senior FBI officials who could provide firsthand accounts about the circumstances around the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, potentially resolving a weeks-long standoff that led senators to threaten issuing subpoenas, according to sources familiar with the matter Friday.
The department had initially raised concerns that potential Senate judiciary interviews of FBI officials Carl Ghattas and James Rybicki could have interfered with special counsel Bob Mueller's investigation, which is looking into the Comey firing as well as potential Russia collusion with President Donald Trump's associates in the elections.
But Senate judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley and the committee's top Democrat, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, had demanded that the two men sit down for separate transcribed interviews to assist with their panel's investigation into possible administration interference with the FBI.
After weeks of exchanges and a nearly hour-long meeting between Grassley and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, the two sides appeared to have reached a deal.
Final details are still being hammered out, the sources said, particularly the timing of the interview. Plus, the committee wants to the FBI to produce more documents before the interviews take place, according to the sources.
George Hartmann, a spokesman for the Senate judiciary committee, said that the panel was still awaiting a formal response from the Justice Department.
"The Department has not yet formally replied to Chairman Grassley's letter of September 27 regarding these interviews, though the discussions between the committee and the Department are ongoing," Hartmann said in an email."
The agreement was reached after Grassley and Rosenstein met in the Iowa Republican's Capitol Hill office to discuss the standoff.
The dispute over the two FBI officials began after the Justice Department rejected the committee's July request to make Ghattas and Rybicki available for transcribed interviews.
Grassley and Feinstein responded by threatening to subpoena their testimony.
Grassley and the Justice Department traded letters over the past week about the interviews.
Stephen Boyd, who heads the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs, wrote to Grassley last week saying the department would allow the two FBI officials to be interviewed in a classified setting, so long as there weren't questions relating to Mueller's probe.
But Grassley responded with his own letter to Rosenstein on Wednesday saying the scope of the limitation sought by the Justice Department was not clear.
Grassley said that the committee wanted to ask the FBI officials about events before Mueller was appointed, including the removal of Comey as FBI director and any Justice Department and FBI activities related to Hillary Clinton, Trump and his associates, and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The letter, sent a day before Grassley and Rosenstein met, threatened to subpoena the FBI officials' testimony if the Justice Department refused to allow those questions to be answered voluntarily.
"In the event that the Department refuses to make witnesses available voluntarily to answer questions related to the above matters, this would likely be the scope of the Committee's subpoena to compel their testimony," Grassley wrote.