The House Intelligence Committee on Monday evening voted to make public a GOP-crafted memo alleging what some Republicans say are “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice (DOJ), according to the committee’s Democratic members.
The committee voted against making public the Democrat-drafted counter-memo, but did vote to release it to the entire House, Democratic lawmakers said. The majority members expressed concern that the minority memo would damage sources and intelligence methods, according to ranking member Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Tech: Dems push Facebook, Twitter to investigate Russian bots | Record lobbying year for tech | Uber hires chief diversity officer | Feds probe Tesla autopilot crash Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller interviewed Sessions in Russia probe | Comey met investigators last year | Dems demand social media firms probe Russian bots | Missing FBI text messages anger Republicans Top committee Dems: GOP chairs trying to undermine Russia probe with FBI texts MORE (D-Calif.).
The move ends weeks of speculation over whether the memo, which was drafted by staff for chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHouse Freedom Caucus lobbied Trump for help in releasing FBI memo: report Overnight Tech: Dems push Facebook, Twitter to investigate Russian bots | Record lobbying year for tech | Uber hires chief diversity officer | Feds probe Tesla autopilot crash Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller interviewed Sessions in Russia probe | Comey met investigators last year | Dems demand social media firms probe Russian bots | Missing FBI text messages anger Republicans MORE (R-Calif.), would be made public. But it intensifies the dispute over what Democrats say is an all-out assault by Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The document will not be immediately released. Under the arcane House rule Republicans used to override the classification of the four-page memo, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: If there’s no wall, there’s no DACA fix Trump appears to call out Samsung over missing FBI text messages Trump Commerce pick told lawmakers he would look at reversing Obama move on internet oversight: report MORE now has five days to review and reject its publication.
But the White House has signaled support for the document’s release and is widely expected to defy the DOJ in allowing the publication to go forward. The DOJ has opposed the release of the document, reportedly infuriating President Trump.
Some Republicans who have read the memo have hinted heavily that it contains information that could unravel the entire Mueller investigation, long described by the president as a “witch hunt.”
The precise contents of the memo remain unknown. However, it’s believed to contain allegations that the FBI did not adequately explain to a clandestine court that some of the information it used in a surveillance warrant application for Trump adviser Carter Page came from opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign, now known as the “Steele dossier.”
The document spotlights Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinThe Trump Presidency: Year One Graham, Meadows go on the attack over Steele dossier FBI chief: Encryption is ‘urgent public safety issue’ MORE’s role in approving the warrant application, according to the New York Times. Rosenstein appointed Mueller and has become a recent target on the right — as well as reportedly garnering the frustration of the president.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications require multiple levels of authentication and require investigators to show probable cause that an individual is acting as an agent of a foreign power. To date, there has been no public evidence that DOJ officials abused the FISA process.
While Nunes has described the memo as “facts,” Democrats have slammed it as a collection of misleading talking points they are unable to correct without exposing the highly classified information underpinning the document.
It’s unclear how much input the DOJ will have prior to the publication of the memo. Typically, when sensitive documents are declassified, the agencies with equities in the intelligence weigh in to assess whether its release would damage national security.
Releasing the memo without allowing them to review it on those grounds, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nunes, would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
But the committee initially stonewalled the DOJ from viewing the document because, as one committee member put it last week, “They’re the ones that have the problem.”
On Monday morning, deputy press secretary Raj Shah hinted on CNN that the DOJ would also not have an opportunity to review the document during the White House pre-release review.
“The Department of Justice doesn’t have a role in this process,” he told CNN.
FBI Director Christopher Wray was reportedly allowed to view the document in the committee’s secure spaces over the weekend. A committee spokesperson declined to comment on Monday, as did the FBI.
Another unanswered question revolves around the highly-classified intelligence that underpins the memo, which came from documents provided to the committee by the DOJ as part of an agreement brokered by House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Dems furious with Senate leaders Overnight Finance: Senate confirms Powell as Fed chair | Mulvaney declares ‘new mission’ for consumer bureau | Trump says solar tariffs will boost jobs GOP rep told aide they were ‘soul mates,’ but denies harassment claim MORE (R-Wis.). The DOJ has said that the release of the memo would be an abrogation of the terms of that agreement, an assertion that spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes reject.
Lawmakers say the underlying intelligence justifying the memo’s allegations is so sensitive that only eight members of Congress are able to view it. Nunes and Schiff are two of the eight figures, but the other members of the Intelligence Committee are not. The top two lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee are also part of the so-called Gang of Eight, but while they have access to the underlying intelligence, Nunes has denied committee requests to see the memo.
“Seeking Committee approval of public release would require [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] committee members to vote on a staff-drafted memorandum that purports to be based on classified source materials that neither you nor most of them have seen,” Boyd told Nunes.
Nunes has brushed aside the notion that the memo wouldn’t be persuasive without the underlying intelligence to substantiate its claims, calling the argument Democratic obstruction of his investigation into DOJ misconduct.
But a working group, including Nunes, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGOP senator claims to have informant alleging secret anti-Trump meetings Missing text messages inflame Republican anger at the FBI Top committee Dems: GOP chairs trying to undermine Russia probe with FBI texts MORE (R-S.C.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHispanic Caucus: Goodlatte bill is the ‘mass deportation act’ Top committee Dems: GOP chairs trying to undermine Russia probe with FBI texts Emboldened conservatives press Ryan to bring hard-right immigration bill to floor MORE (R-Va.), met last weekend to discuss the possibility of making some of the underlying information public. Nunes has “a plan,” committee member Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayOvernight Tech: Rupert Murdoch wants Facebook to pay publishers | Montana implements net neutrality rules | Security fears drive crackdown on Chinese tech firms | Facebook says social media can be harmful to democracy Overnight Cybersecurity: Twitter notifies those who interacted with Russian accounts | Trump signs surveillance bill | Lawmakers look to crack down on Chinese tech firms Security fears spark crackdown on Chinese tech MORE (R-Texas) said last week, but provided no further details.
Other Republicans suggested Monday that plan may be dead in the water. Asked if there was a plan to release any of the underlying intelligence, Gowdy replied, “Not that I know of.”
The memo is a committee work product and the responsibility for releasing it, or not releasing it, rests with Congress.
The underlying intelligence, however, belongs to the executive branch, and Trump could unilaterally make it public if he wished.
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