The FBI has been slowed by federal prosecutors in its efforts to determine who leaked sensitive surveillance intelligence, creating growing frustration on Capitol Hill that the lone evidence of criminality to emerge to date in the Russia counterintelligence probe has yet to be pursued.
FBI officials told congressional leaders that, as of the middle of this week, the Bureau had not yet gotten the Justice Department's approval to proceed with a full scale criminal probe, which could require resources like a grand jury and subpoenas, sources told Circa.
Congressional leaders and President Trump have all decried unauthorized releases of highly sensitive intelligence from the probe into Russian efforts to influence last year's election. Trump has called them "criminal leaks."
The sources familiar with the briefings, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said FBI officials have assembled a list of government employees who had access to classified information that was leaked, such as the intercepted communications in December between former National Security adviser Mike Flynn and Russia’s ambassador.
But the effort to fully identify the leakers or bring them to justice can't begin until DOJ approval is secured, the sources said.
The delays apparently involve a shortage of high-level political appointees. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation because he had contacts with the Russian ambassador during his days in Congress, and Obama administration holdovers have not stepped in to make a decision as of the middle of this week, the sources said.
The delays are not welcome on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers want to understand how data like foreign leader intercepts could so easily have been leaked.
"The intelligence and law enforcement community so far has prima facie evidence of only one set of crimes in the Russian intel probe, and it's the leaks. And nothing is moving quickly," said one senior congressional official familiar with the state of the probes, describing the congressional frustration.
FBI Director James Comey is slated to testify Monday before the House Intelligence Committee, where he is likely to field questions from lawmakers about the leaks and who had access to information like intercepts.