Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted Monday in favor of releasing a classified memo that alleges misconduct by senior FBI officials involved in the Russia probe, despite objections from the Department of Justice.
The GOP-led panel voted along party lines to release the secret document — which was written by Republicans — and against making public a competing memo Democrats had crafted, said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee. The group also rejected a proposal to give the Justice Department and FBI more time to vet the Republican document, he said.
The memo has been a source of escalating partisan tension in Congress. Republicans argue it shows wrongdoing by FBI officials involved in surveillance of a Trump campaign aide, while Democrats say it mischaracterizes intelligence and is an attempt to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
In a sign of the House GOP’s growing suspicions toward the FBI — as well as the influence of Donald Trump’s allies who wanted the memo made public — the panel voted to publish the document only a day after sharing it with the FBI director, who was appointed by the president.
“We have crossed a deeply regrettable line on this committee,” Schiff said. “We had votes today to politicize the intelligence process, to prohibit the FBI and the Department of Justice from expressing their concerns to our committee and to the House, and to selectively release to the public the majority’s distorted memo.”
House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes showed FBI Director Christopher Wray the memo on Sunday after Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) pressured him to share its contents with the bureau, two people familiar with the meeting said Monday. Gowdy also wanted Nunes to let Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein see the memo too, but he did not join them Sunday.
In their meeting, Nunes told Wray he could flag any factual errors, national security concerns or material that could put FBI sources at risk, according to the people familiar with the meeting. Schiff said Wray told him his concerns with the memo were not alleviated just because he reviewed it.
“The review did not satisfy, I think, either the bureau or [DOJ’s] concerns,” Schiff said. “The director of the FBI asked for the opportunity to come before the committee and express those concerns.” He said Republicans also formally confirmed on Monday that they are probing conduct by senior officials at the Department of Justice and FBI.
Committee Republicans did agree to share Democrats’ competing memo with the rest of the House, which they called a precursor to potentially releasing it publicly. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told reporters the Democratic memo “should be” released after House members have time to review it.
Trump now has five days to either object to the committee’s request or clear the way for the memo’s release. The White House said earlier on Monday that no decision would be made until lawmakers voted.
“It will be subjected to appropriate and serious review before a decision is made. The President strongly favors transparency for the American people and has urged the Executive Branch to cooperate with Congress to the fullest extent appropriate,” said White House lawyer Ty Cobb in a statement Monday.
Three people who have seen the memo told POLITICO recently that it accuses senior FBI officials of abusing a classified surveillance program, known as FISA, to spy on a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. Obtaining a warrant under FISA requires the FBI to present an application to a court with evidence that indicates the target is acting on behalf of a foreign power.
The GOP has complained that the FBI included in its evidence material culled from a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele that described illicit connections between Trump and Russia. Steele compiled the dossier in 2016 on behalf of research firm Fusion GPS, which was being paid by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The New York Times reported Monday that the memo also reveals that deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved an application to extend the surveillance of Page in early 2017.
Though Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, helped craft the memo and has championed its public release, he said on “Fox News Sunday” that he believed the FBI should see the memo before it comes out. He also said it shouldn’t be used to interfere with Mueller’s probe.
“I told my Republican colleagues, ‘Leave him the hell alone,’ and that’s still my advice,” Gowdy said.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a member of the House intelligence committee and a former CIA officer, said he was not concerned about a Justice Department warning that releasing the memo without DOJ review could jeopardize national security. “I spent most of my adult life protecting sources and methods. I’m going to continue doing that,” he said.
Rachael Bade contributed to this report.
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