President Donald Trump appears poised to release a controversial GOP memo from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which committee chairman Devin Nunes and other Republicans have touted as evidence that the FBI has been biased against Trump in its investigation of his campaign and Russian election meddling.
Nunes, who represents California’s 22nd congressional district centered in the San Joaquin Valley, has long defended Trump in the Russia investigations as being undertaken by various committees in Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, who oppose the GOP memo release, have argued that the memo is just the latest chapter — an attempt to stir up controversy over investigators who are looking into the President’s finances, his campaign’s interactions with Russia and actions in office that could amount to obstruction of justice.
But Republicans argue that the GOP memo should be released for transparency, bucking Trump’s own Department of Justice, which has warned that releasing the memo would be “reckless.”
Here’s a quick look at what is going on.
What does the GOP memo say?
Since the GOP memo is not yet public, we do not know exactly what it says. However, it’s been reported that the four-page memo alleges the FBI abused its surveillance powers in targeting Trump’s campaign.
In particular, the GOP memo reportedly argues that the FBI misused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) when it built a case for obtaining a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. CNN reported that the GOP memo specifically cites the roles of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and outgoing deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. The New York Times reported the GOP memo also claims that the FISA warrant was improper because it relied on information from former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, author of a notorious but unsubstantiated dossier about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
Why does the GOP memo matter?
If descriptions of the memo are accurate, it would appear to be an attempt to bolster some of Trump’s criticisms of recent FBI investigations.
The President has taken an increasingly sharp tone against the Russia investigations of late, particularly focusing his ire on the roles of Rosenstein and McCabe, who retired abruptly on Monday. Rosenstein is the top Justice Department staffer with the authority to end Mueller’s investigation, while McCabe had oversight of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. However, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who supports releasing the GOP memo, has said that criticism of the FBI spurred by it should be kept separate from criticism of Mueller’s investigation.
The GOP memo could also draw more attention to the controversial Steele dossier, which Trump has criticized as “a complete fraud,” “discredited and fake,” “bogus” and a “Crooked Hillary pile of garbage.”
What have Republicans been saying about the memo
Republicans have for weeks been calling for the memo’s release, suggesting that it sheds light on a deep political conspiracy.
“This stinks to high heaven,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted on Jan. 23. “If this is anything what it looks like — the FBI changing course on investigation, putting their thumb on the scale to undermine Donald Trump and essentially help Hillary Clinton — that is as wrong as it gets. This demands further investigation.”
When will it actually be public?
The White House has five days from Monday’s vote to decide whether to make the memo public. Trump is expected to approve its release.
What are Democrats saying about the GOP memo?
Democrats say the release of the GOP memo is a Republican effort to discredit the legitimacy of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a statement on Monday evening, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi scoffed at the memo’s credibility, saying it “contains significant inaccuracies and omissions that misrepresent the underlying intelligence and jeopardize the effectiveness of our intelligence and law enforcement communities.”
“Republican must cease their efforts to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” Pelosi said.
At a news conference on Tuesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the release of the memo.
“There may have been malfeasance by people at the F.B.I.,” Ryan said. “It is our job in conducting transparent oversight of the executive branch to get to the bottom of that. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
But, he said, the implications of the GOP memo should not influence the ongoing investigation into Russian interference.
“This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller’s investigation,” Ryan said. “His investigation should be allowed to take its course.”
What has the FBI said about the GOP memo?
In an unusual public statement, the FBI said Wednesday that it has “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy, the first time it weighed in publicly on the issue. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the statement read. Nunes responded by arguing that the FBI could make public the underlying information on the cases. “Having stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year, it’s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies,” he said in a statement.
Why does the Steele dossier matter in the context of the GOP memo?
Trump has repeatedly criticized the Steele dossier as a partisan effort, since it was partly funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The memo would bolster Trump’s argument that the Russia investigations all stem from a partisan attack.
But Trump’s claim is not entirely true, as the initial research by Fusion GPS was paid for by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website funded by Republican donor Paul Singer. Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson also wrote in the New York Times and testified before a Senate committee that he believed the FBI was interested in the information in the Steele dossier because it lined up with “other intelligence that indicated the same thing.”
It is not known exactly what evidence was used to secure the FISA warrant on Page. National security experts say it’s unlikely that the FBI would have relied solely on information from the Steele dossier, but the underlying documents that the GOP memo relies on are also classified. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have also drafted a memo which would counter some of the claims from the GOP memo, but it is not public either.