President Donald Trump intends to give his blessing to Republican lawmakers to release a classified GOP-drafted memo that alleges misconduct by senior FBI officials investigating his 2016 campaign, a senior administration official said Thursday.
“The president is OK with it,” the official told reporters aboard Air Force One. “I doubt there will be any redactions. It’s in Congress’ hands after that.”
Making the secret document public would require brushing aside concerns raised by Trump’s own FBI director that the memo is misleading and omits crucial facts — which the FBI can’t disclose itself because they’re still highly classified. The release would be certain to energize allies eager to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading a criminal investigation into Trump’s campaign associates’ ties to Russia.
The memo, according to people who have viewed it, alleges that top FBI officials misled a federal court to obtain a warrant to spy on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Republicans say a disputed dossier alleging illicit Trump ties to Russia — compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele — played a role in obtaining that warrant, and they believe the FBI did not properly disclose Steele’s role or that the firm he worked with had been hired by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
The production of the memo would be explosive. Democrats say the document, crafted by aides to Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), is misleading spin intended to undermine Mueller just as he’s hauling in members of Trump’s inner circle in his inquiry into whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia probe.
On Thursday morning, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi sent separate letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan, blasting his handling of the memo. Pelosi, a former ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, called on Ryan to remove Nunes from his post immediately.
House Republicans have largely dismissed the complaints, describing the memo as an opportunity to spotlight what they say is abuse of the FBI’s spying program. Ryan said Thursday the memo “did not implicate” the Mueller investigation.
The White House has indicated it had no problem publicizing the memo, saying Trump favored transparency on the issue. On Tuesday, he was caught by microphones telling a lawmaker he “100 percent” supported making the document public. A source familiar with the process said Thursday that the White House engaged in a thorough review of the memo that included the National Security Council and White House counsel Don McGahn’s office.
It’s unclear, however, when the memo itself could be produced publicly. The administration official said Trump would likely convey his approval to lawmakers on Friday, and the House Intelligence Committee could need time to release it, possibly until the House comes back from a recess on Monday.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday afternoon called on the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to “call FBI Director Wray and other representatives from the Department of Justice to appear on an emergency basis before the Committee.”
Nadler said the officials could brief the committee — which oversees the FBI and Justice Department — on concerns about the implications of releasing the memo publicly.
Nadler attempted Tuesday to force the committee into a closed session to debate the House Intelligence Committee’s memo. He and Goodlatte are two of the only lawmakers who have seen the underlying intelligence that was used to craft the memo.
Goodlatte told reporters Thursday that he and his colleagues “certainly want to hear from the FBI and have been hearing from the FBI” about the memo. But he said getting the memo released is “the most important thing.”
“There is a problem with several people in some of the highest levels in the bureau. And that needs to investigated and the American people need to understand why,” he said. “And that is going to be aided — not completely — but aided by the release of this memo.”
Former federal prosecutor and Duke University law professor Samuel Buell warned that the memo’s release could come back to haunt both the president and GOP congressional allies if Trump ends up trying to use it to fire officials such as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation.
“It could move the national conversation in a very bad way for Trump,” said Buell. “Even with this additional ammo, if it turns to be ammo, I think there’s a significant deterrent still to a Trump version of a ‘Saturday Night Massacre.’”
Matthew Nussbaum and Darren Samuelsohn contributed reporting. Burgess Everett also contributed reporting from White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
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