DOJ rejects Senate committee's request for interviews with FBI officials

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. 

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The Justice Department has declined a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee to interview two FBI officials who were called on to testify about former FBI Director James Comey's firing, indicating Comey's ouster is not yet determined to be out of the scope of the special counsel's investigation. 

The Justice Department informed the committee it won't allow the interviews in a Sept. 11 letter, CBS News' Paula Reid reports. It isn't commenting on the matter publicly, but CBS News has obtained the letter the DOJ sent to the committee from a source familiar with the matter. In the letter, the Justice Department says the issue the committee is investigating — Comey's firing — "has not been de-conflicted" from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. While that doesn't confirm Mueller is specifically investigating Comey's May firing, it doesn't rule out that possibility, as Mueller's office probes Russian election meddling and any ties between Russia and Trump associates.  

When the committee requested the interviews in July with Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch, and James Rybicki, chief of staff and senior counselor to the FBI director, the committee said it would only interview them about the circumstances leading up to Comey's dismissal, and not about their investigation with the special counsel. But, by suggesting this compromise, Reid reports, the committee forced the DOJ to hint that Comey's departure isn't outside the scope of Mueller's investigation. 

"As a threshold matter, the scope of the committee's inquiry has not been de-conflicted with Special Counsel Mueller's investigation," the Sept. 11 letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd to the committee reads. "Therefore, in order to protect the integrity of the special counsel's investigation, as we have previously indicated, we will not be able to provide Mr. Ghattas or Mr. Rybicki for interviews at this time."

The events surrounding Comey's firing continue to be a political problem for the Trump administration. Recently ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told CBS News' Charlie Rose on "60 Minutes" that Comey's firing was perhaps the biggest political mistake in modern history. 

CBS News' Paula Reid contributed to this report.