The Memo: Trump doubles down amid some GOP doubts

President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE on Monday doubled down on his contention that a controversial memo released last week exposed deep political bias at the highest reaches of law enforcement — but some Republicans are dissenting. 

Trump insists the memo, written by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesNunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden White House, Congress talk next coronavirus relief bill as COVID-19 continues to surge Tucker Carlson: 'Matt Drudge is now firmly a man of the progressive left' MORE (R-Calif.) and alleging misdeeds at the FBI and Department of Justice, helps his case that the broader probe into Russia’s election meddling spearheaded by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE is a “witch hunt.”

Democrats scoff, but some Republicans back that position whole-heartedly.

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Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzHillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence Five takeaways as panel grills tech CEOs New HBO documentary lets Gaetz, Massie, Buck offer their take on how to 'drain the swamp' MORE (R-Fla.), who is among the lawmakers who have been most supportive of Trump, told The Hill, “I think the Mueller investigation is intractably infected with bias, but I think it would be a mistake to view the memo solely in the context of the Mueller probe.”

Yet a number of Republicans — including some outside the ranks of Trump’s usual critics — have broken from the president’s line.

The memo is primarily focused on how a dossier funded by Democrats and prepared by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, was used in the FBI’s application for a surveillance warrant on Carter Page in 2016. Page had been an adviser to the Trump campaign.

“There is a Russia investigation without a dossier,” Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySenate GOP set to ramp up Obama-era probes More than two dozen former prosecutors, judges, active trial lawyers support DOJ decision to dismiss Michael Flynn case Sunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgets MORE (R-S.C.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. Gowdy added that the dossier “doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.” 

Other leading Republicans, most notably Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocratic super PAC quotes Reagan in anti-Trump ad set to air on Fox News: 'Are you better off?' Trump lashes out at Reagan Foundation after fundraising request The Memo: Trump's grip on GOP loosens as polls sink MORE (Wis.), were pumping the brakes on the most grandiose pro-Trump claims about the Nunes memo before it was even released. On Thursday, Ryan asserted at a news conference, “It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.”

Among the other Republicans who have expressed skepticism, albeit of varying intensity, are Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAsian American voters could make a difference in 2020 Budowsky: Trump October surprise could devastate GOP The Memo: Biden seeks to peel older voters from Trump MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNavarro: 'Don't fall for' message from TikTok lobbyists, 'puppet CEO' Graham defends Trump on TikTok, backs Microsoft purchase The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse MORE (S.C.) and Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Texas Democrats plan 7-figure ad buy to turn state blue Republicans face worsening outlook in battle for House MORE (Texas), Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupLawmakers urge administration to remove tariffs on European wine and spirits amid coronavirus pandemic GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Sen. Coons says US needs to invest in vaccine manufacturing now; uncertainty looms over states reopening MORE (Ohio) and Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartAtlanta Wendy's 911 call the night of Rayshard Brooks's death released Tyler Perry offers to pay for funeral of Rayshard Brooks Current, former NHL players form diversity coalition to fight intolerance in hockey MORE (Utah).

Gaetz acknowledged his differences with party colleagues, even though he suggested there were more profound points of agreement.

“I disagree with the conclusion that Speaker Ryan and Chairman Gowdy have drawn, but I think it would be ill-advised to get lost in that,” he said.

The release of the Nunes memo has fueled speculation that Trump could move against Mueller or — in perhaps a more likely scenario — seek to oust Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinFBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Sally Yates to testify as part of GOP probe into Russia investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe MORE, the deputy attorney general.

The White House has denied any such moves are afoot, a point reiterated by principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah when he spoke to reporters on board Air Force One on Monday. Shah said there had been no “consideration” given to moving key personnel at the Justice Department.

Democrats have warned that any move against Mueller or Rosenstein would precipitate a constitutional crisis.

Still, Trump’s tweets earlier in the day revealed a president deeply resentful of the way the probe has been conducted — and the degree to which it has overshadowed his time in office.

Trump tweeted that Nunes was “a man of tremendous courage and grit [who] may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed.” 

The president also took aim at Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Schiff has pushed a Democratic memo aimed at refuting the Nunes document, and the Intelligence Committee voted Monday evening to release it. Shah said the White House would “consider” consenting to such a release if Congress pushed for it.

Another Republican congressman, Rep. Jim Banks (Ind.), said on Monday that the Democratic memo should be made public.

But the president took a much more negative tack on Twitter Monday.

“Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with [James] Comey, [Sen. Mark] Warner [D-Va.], [John] Brennan and [James] Clapper!” Trump said, referring to the former FBI director, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a former CIA chief and a former national intelligence chief, respectively. 

The president added to the incendiary tone of the political discourse in an unrelated matter on Monday. Speaking in Ohio, he accused Democrats of “treason” for not having reacted more enthusiastically to his State of the Union speech last week. 

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) shot back on Twitter that Trump “doesn’t know what ‘treason’ means.”

The president continues to enjoy the backing of the clear majority of Republicans, both inside and outside Congress. His approval rating with GOP voters is around 80 percent in most polls.

But among Republican observers who are critical of him, the latest controversy is the clearest example yet of how the party has lost its way.

“Too many Republican leaders are afraid of taking on Trump or taking on Trump supporters, and so they are not willing to call out Nunes and this entire corrupt effort,” said Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of the three most recent Republican presidents before Trump.

“This is just part of the decline of the Republican Party under Trump,” Wehner added. “They hitched their wagon to him, so he goes down and they go down with him. They just can’t seem to find the courage to break from him.”

Trump backers like Gaetz clearly don’t believe a lack of courage has anything to do with it. 

“I think he was vindicated in the broader argument that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt. The memo demonstrates the rotten core that the Mueller investigation is built on,” Gaetz said.

Trump, as usual, is not backing down. Whether that will deepen GOP divisions or ultimately bring the party even more firmly to his side is anyone’s guess. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.