The Memo: Trump doubles down amid some GOP doubts

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers 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 NunesTrump hits Twitter: 'They don't treat me well as a Republican' Ten post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators Schiff, Nunes pressed DOJ for Mueller briefing 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) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE is a “witch hunt.”

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

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzOvernight Energy: Trump moves to crack down on Iranian oil exports | Florida lawmakers offer bill to ban drilling off state's coast | Bloomberg donates .5M to Paris deal Florida lawmakers offer bill to ban drilling off state's coast Trump vetoes measure ending US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen 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 GowdyHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Democrats put harassment allegations against Trump on back burner Democrats seize on Mueller-Barr friction 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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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 McCainIf you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era Earth Day founder's daughter: Most Republican leaders believe in climate change in private MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamIf you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again Graham challenges Dems to walk the walk on impeachment Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars MORE (S.C.) and Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race DCCC opens Texas office to protect House pickups, target vulnerable GOP seats Dems ramp up subpoena threats MORE (Texas), Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupKey doctors group faces political risks on guns GOP announces members who will serve on House intel panel CNN host pushes back on GOP lawmaker’s claim: ‘Hold on, diseases are not pouring into the country' MORE (Ohio) and Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartBarr testimony opens new partisan fight over FBI spying on Trump Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons 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 Jay RosensteinHeavy lapses in judgment are politicizing the justice system Top Judiciary Republican reviews less-redacted Mueller report Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' 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 SchiffOn The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Pelosi downplays impeachment post-Mueller report Pelosi, Dems struggle to find unity in Mueller response 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.