White House declassifies partisan memo on Russia probe
WASHINGTON – The White House on Friday declassified a partisan and bitterly disputed memo on the Russia investigation, clearing the way for House Republicans to release allegations of what they say is FBI misconduct.
The move came over the fierce objections of the FBI and Justice Department, which have said the document prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee is inaccurate and missing critical context.
The memo alleges that the FBI abused U.S. government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference. Trump, who has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” has supported the release of the memo in the apparent hopes that it could help undermine the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump, dogged by the unrelenting investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, lashed out anew Friday at the FBI and Justice Department as politically biased against Republicans.
“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!” Trump tweeted.
The tweet came as U.S. news coverage was dominated by reports that the FBI and DOJ had objected strenuously to the memo’s release. Earlier this week, the FBI declared it had “grave concerns” about its accuracy.
Trump’s tweet sets up a clash with the man he picked to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray, after firing James Comey as agency director. It also seemed at odds with House Speaker Paul Ryan who said a day earlier “this memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice.”
Democrats say the memo cherry-picks intelligence in an effort to smear law enforcement investigating whether Trump associates collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.
“This is designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI, to undermine the investigation, to give the president additional fodder to attack the investigation. And it’s a tremendous disservice to the American people,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS “This Morning.”
The document was written by GOP lawmakers as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department early in Russia investigation, before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take it over.
White House officials say Trump intends to clear the way for publication of the memo. One White House official said Congress would probably be informed of Trump’s decision Friday, adding that the president was “OK” with its release. A second White House official said Trump was likely to declassify the congressional memo but the precise method for making it public was still being figured out. The officials were not authorized to be quoted about private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The House intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday to put the memo out, giving Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Trump also has the power to declassify the document himself and either release it or hand it to Congress to release. One of the White House officials said the memo would be in “Congress’ hands” after Trump declassified it and there were unlikely to be any redactions to the document.
Senior FBI officials, including Wray, have also made direct appeals to the White House, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.
Democrats on the intelligence panel made a last-ditch effort Wednesday evening to stop the release, saying the memo had been “secretly altered” by the Republicans who wrote it. In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Schiff wrote that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the vote Monday.
“The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release,” Schiff said in the letter.
Schiff asked Nunes for another vote on the memo, but Republicans didn’t appear to waver. Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said the committee vote was “procedurally sound.”
“To suggest otherwise is a bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo, which the public will hopefully soon be able to read for themselves,” Langer said.
This all comes as special counsel Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey. Republicans have intensified their pressure on the Justice Department as Mueller’s probe has moved closer to Trump’s inner circle.
Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the document will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his claim that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are pressing House Speaker Paul Ryan to stop the release.
Comey weighed in on Twitter as well: “All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.”
– Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Matthew Daly, Eric Tucker and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.