Politics

Trump Formally Clears Release of Nunes Memo

President ignores FBI director’s objections as Democrats howl

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., makes his way from the panel's office to a news conference at the Capitol in March. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ignoring warnings from his hand-picked FBI director, President Donald Trump on Friday cleared the release of a classified memo compiled by House Intelligence Committee Republicans alleging the bureau overstepped its authorities early in the Russia election meddling probe.

President Donald Trump confirmed he cleared the Nunes memo for release, telling reporters on Friday that its contents amount to a “disgrace.”

[Read the memo]

“A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves - and much worse than that,” Trump said in the Oval Office. He deferred release timeline questions to Intelligence Committee GOP leadership. A spokesman for the panel has not responded to multiple inquiries about timing.

The president declassified the document in “full” and with no redactions, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters Friday. The memo has been sent back to the House Intelligence Committee — both the majority and minority sides — with a letter clearing it for release, Shah said. The memo and the letter approving its release also were sent to the office of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, he said.

The document was compiled by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and reportedly accuses the FBI of overstepping its authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by using the controversial dossier, at least partially financed via an attorney hired by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, on Trump and Russia when it sought and obtained a surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign aide.

The Intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday evening to release it; Trump had five days to decide whether to sign off. It is not clear just when Nunes will make the document public.

Democratic lawmakers and Trump critics say the president pushed to make the document public in an attempt to undermine the Justice Department’s Russia probe, which is being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman John Warner, D-Va., this week called the memo a “partisan sham cooked up to undermine the FBI, DOJ, and the Mueller probe,” warning “House Republicans are playing a very dangerous game.”

But the president’s top White House aides countered by saying he merely wants the investigation to be transparent and the American people to have as much information as possible to make up their own minds.

Trump made the final decision to make the document public, putting him at odds with Christopher Wray, the director he selected after firing James Comey. Democratic lawmakers have accused the memo’s author, Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., with drafting the document to give Trump cover by trying to discredit the Russia probe, saying its release could undermine national security.

FBI officials were “provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said Wednesday in a statement. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

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Trump ignored questions about the memo and its release when reporters were allowed into an Oval Office event on the GOP tax law Wednesday afternoon. Just hours before he cleared its release, he tweeted criticism of the country’s top law enforcement officials — all of whom are overseeing the Russia election meddling probe.

Senior Justice Department and FBI officials have a collective anti-Republican bias and have “politicized the sacred investigative process,” he wrote before 7 a.m. Friday.

House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., added a twist to the saga when he tweeted late Wednesday that Nunes “made material changes to the memo he sent to White House.”

Schiff said his Republican counterpart’s changes were not approved by the committee when it voted to release the memo, which is said to accuse top FBI officials of improperly obtaining a secret surveillance warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to collect information on Carter Page, a Trump campaign official who had repeated contacts with Russian officials and traveled to Moscow during the 2016 campaign. “The White House is therefore reviewing a document the Committee has not approved for release,” he said.

Schiff called the move “deeply troubling,” adding “there is no longer a valid basis for the White House to review this altered document.”

Roll Call reached out to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Raj Shah about Schiff's charges, asking if White House officials would release the version Nunes handed over or the one on which the committee, according to Schiff, voted. They have yet to respond. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a senior member of that chamber's Intelligence Committee on Wednesday said in a statement that “it’s clear the goal is to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.”

“If transparency were the objective, Republicans would support releasing the Democratic memo simultaneously, but instead they’re blocking it,” she said, referring to a refuting document prepared by the House Intelligence Committee’s Democratic members.

The GOP-crafted document reportedly accuses the FBI of overstepping its authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by using the controversial dossier on Trump and Russia when it sought and obtained a surveillance warrant on a former campaign aide.

The Intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday evening to release it; Trump had five days to decide whether to authorize its release.

Former Acting CIA Director John Mclaughlin called what is publicly known about the Nunes-crafted document sounds like a “carefully picked bowl of cherries.” He tweeted Wednesday that FISA warrants are typically much longer than the four pages that reportedly composes the Nunes memo.

As Trump exited the House chamber after delivering his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, South Carolina GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan shouted: “Mr. President, let’s release the memo,”

The president, who has the authority to declassify any piece of information shot back: “Don't worry, 100%. Can you imagine?” Trump then pointed to another member and told Duncan, “He’d be too angry” if it did not see the light of day.

The exchange was caught on a hot microphone.

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Trump’s commitment to clearing its release came before he had even seen it. The White House confirmed he had not read the memo before he entered the House chamber on Tuesday night.

Wray reportedly spoke directly to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly earlier this week about his preference against releasing the Nunes memo, but those efforts failed. Kelly on Wednesday morning told Fox News Radio he expected the document would be cleared for release “pretty quick.”

Schiff predicted after the Monday evening panel vote that Trump would green-light the release.

“As I said to my committee colleagues during this hearing, sadly we can fully expect that the president of the United States will not put the national interest over his own personal interests,” Schiff told reporters.

“But, it is a sad day, indeed, when that is true of our own committee,” he added, “because today this committee voted to put the president’s personal interest, [and] perhaps their own political interests, above the national interest.”

The memo’s release comes just days after Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe stepped down after months of pressure from Trump for him to do so. The president, drawing some comparisons to the Nixon-era Watergate scandal, had questioned how McCabe could be an honest party in the Russia probe since his wife took thousands in campaign dollars from a close Hillary Clinton confidant, then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Eric Garcia contributed to this report.

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