Republicans Plan To Release Controversial Memo Alleging Surveillance Abuse By FBI

Feb 1, 2018
Originally published on February 1, 2018 4:55 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Joining us now with the latest on that classified memo is NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.

SHAPIRO: We woke up thinking that the memo would be released today, and now we hear maybe it will be released tomorrow. What has happened today to change that?

LUCAS: Well, first off, it bears repeating that this memo was drawn up by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team. We haven't seen the memo yet. We don't know the specifics. The White House says it is reviewing it, getting input from national security and legal folks.

A senior administration official says they're making sure it doesn't give away too much in terms of classified information. The official also says the president is OK with the document. There likely won't be any redactions. And the White House is expected to tell Congress tomorrow that it's cleared for release. So we could see it as early as tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: Likely coming from Congress rather than the White House, which would be a shift from what we were expecting.

LUCAS: It's a congressional document. It's going to come from Congress.

SHAPIRO: The president says he wants to release it over the FBI's objections. How unusual are these overt clashes that we're seeing right now between the White House and the FBI that is a part of the administration?

LUCAS: This is a very weird situation. If you take a step back, it looks even weirder. You have a Republican-led FBI and a Republican-led Justice Department at odds with a Republican-led White House, which is taking the side of a Republican-led congressional committee going after the FBI and the Justice Department. But there's been this political fight going on surrounding the FBI for a while now.

President Trump and his allies say there's an anti-Trump bias in the bureau. They point to text messages sent between two senior FBI officials that disparaged the president. Yesterday of course the FBI put out a statement about the memo, said that it has grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.

I spoke with several former FBI officials about the memo. They say that this whole situation puts the FBI basically in an impossible situation. To counter inaccurate allegations, the FBI would likely have to disclose classified information, which the FBI of course doesn't want to do, so it's stuck. With the FBI clashing with the White House right now, the FBI Agents Association put out a statement today in support of the director, Chris Wray, who's been under a lot of pressure. FBI Agents Association says it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

SHAPIRO: As you've reported, the Democrats have their own memo which they say is a rebuttal to this Republican memo. What is the Democrats' move as this GOP memo inches closer and closer to public release?

LUCAS: Well, as you said, the Democrats from the beginning have said the Republican memo is misleading; it's an attempt to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Democrats hit back on a couple of fronts today. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, says Republicans secretly made changes to the version that they sent to the White House, therefore it should be withdrawn from consideration. Republicans just brushed that aside.

The second thing that they did today was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove the man behind the memo, Devin Nunes. They say that Nunes has acted in an underhanded manner. He's a partisan, and he should be disqualified from running the committee.

SHAPIRO: But that choice, as you said, would be up to Paul Ryan, who today defended Nunes and this memo.

LUCAS: Absolutely he did. He's basically said today that - he was at the GOP retreat, and he said that he has confidence in Nunes. He says Democrats are just playing politics. They're trying to distract from the memo for political gain. And he also addressed the memo itself. He said this is Congress doing its job. This is what Congress is supposed to do.

Ryan and his fellow Republicans basically say this is about alleged abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department. The American public should know about it to ensure that it doesn't happen again. And they also say it has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation. But we have to remember; the memo reportedly alleges missteps early in the Russia investigation, improper surveillance. So it does tie directly back into the Russia investigation and what Mueller's looking into. And it could be used to cast doubts on any conclusions that he comes to.

SHAPIRO: NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.