WASHINGTON (AP) — Over the strong objections of his own Justice Department, President Donald Trump will clear the way for the publication of a classified memo on the Russia investigation that Republicans say shows improper use of surveillance by the FBI, White House officials said Thursday.
The memo, prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee, is said to allege FBI misconduct in its investigation of potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. Trump’s Justice Department and Democrats furiously lobbied Trump to stop the release, saying it could harm national security and mislead the public.
A White House official said Congress would probably be informed of the decision Friday, adding Trump 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 completed. 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 it out, giving Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Trump also has the power to declassify the memo himself and either release it or give it to Congress to release. One of the White House officials said the memo would be in “Congress’ hands” after Trump declassified it and that there were unlikely to be any redactions.
Trump has said he wants the memo released despite the objections of the FBI and the Justice Department. The FBI declared Wednesday that it has “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the classified memo, which was written as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the early stages of the Russian investigation.
Senior FBI officials have also made direct appeals to the White House, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.
Democrats call the memo an attempt by Republicans to distract attention from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House. Democrats on the intelligence panel made a last-ditch effort Wednesday evening to stop the memo’s release, saying it had been “secretly altered” by the Republicans who wrote it. California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes of California, 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” and “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.”
The FBI’s stance means that Trump, by allowing the memo’s release, would be openly defying his own FBI director by continuing to push for its disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI director Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.
The FBI statement came the day after Trump was overheard on television cameras telling a congressman that he “100 percent” supported release of the four-page memo.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are pressing Speaker Paul Ryan to stop the memo’s release. They both called Thursday for Nunes to be removed as chairman of the intelligence panel. Pelosi says Nunes took “deliberately dishonest actions” by altering a classified memo.
Some Senate Republicans have also urged caution. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said Thursday that the Senate intelligence committee still hasn’t seen the memo and should before it comes out.
“I think they need to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about how this bears on our national security,” Thune said, echoing concerns of other Republican senators.
Democrats have called the memo a “cherry-picked” list of GOP talking points. They have prepared their own memo in response, but Republicans voted to block its immediate release.
This all comes as special counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the campaign 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 memo 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 belief that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nunes lashed out at the law enforcement agencies, calling the FBI and Justice Department objections “spurious.”
The vote to release the memo was unprecedented in the committee’s history. The panel usually goes out of its way to protect classified information in the interest of shielding intelligence sources and methods.
The Justice Department had said in a letter last week that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without first giving the FBI and the department the chance to review it.