In a letter to three top Republican House chairmen, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the department decided to provide lawmakers with the memos now because of “unusual events occurring since the previous limited disclosure.”
“The Department has consulted the relevant parties and concluded that the release of the memoranda to Congress at this time would not adversely impact any ongoing investigation or other confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch,” Boyd said.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office was consulted on the release and did not object.
Thursday’s letter to lawmakers enclosed redacted versions of the memos, with classified information blacked out. Lawmakers will be permitted to review unredacted copies Friday in a classified setting on Capitol Hill.
Comey told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview Thursday on “The Lead” that he had no problem with members of Congress reading the memos.
“It’s fine by me,” Comey said.
A source familiar told CNN that Trump did not read the memos but was briefed on their contents prior to the Justice Department’s release to lawmakers.
The existence of the memos was first revealed when Comey asked a friend to provide the contents of one memo to The New York Times in the hopes it would prompt the appointment of a special counsel. In that memo, he wrote that Trump asked him to curtail the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
CNN and other news organizations filed a lawsuit last year to gain access to the memos, but the special counsel’s office objected, saying the disclosure could compromise the investigation into Russian election meddling — and a federal judge agreed they should stay under wraps.
Certain members of Congress have previously reviewed some of the memos with classified information redacted, but had more recently demanded that they be declassified.
“Everything that’s been said about them, and everybody knows most everything that’s in them, so they ought to be,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said.
CNN reported Wednesday that House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte was ready to issue a subpoena to the Justice Department demanding the memos this week.
Last week Goodlatte, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy demanded access to the Comey memos and other records from the Justice Department as part of their investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry in 2016.
Gowdy told CNN on Wednesday that there’s nothing in the memos that should prevent the Justice Department from providing them to Congress. He said the redactions are minor, and the larger issue is that Congress should be given access to the memos as part of its oversight role.