The Memo: Trump doubles down amid some GOP doubts

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichelle Obama says not always easy to live up to "we go high" Georgia certifies elections results in bitterly fought governor's race Trump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny 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 NunesHeads up, GOP: Elections have consequences Overnight Energy: Trump, California leaders clash over fires | Trump says oil prices should be 'much lower' | Zinke criticizes media coverage | Officials consider new truck pollution rule Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires 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 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.

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Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzMcCarthy, other Republicans back Ratcliffe to be next attorney general Gaetz goes to bat with Trump on Jordan Soros rep: Fox News refuses to have me on 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 GowdyMcCarthy, other Republicans back Ratcliffe to be next attorney general South Carolina New Members 2019 Trey Gowdy: Sessions was 'dead man walking for several months' 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 RyanCalif. congresswoman-elect bumps into Pelosi at airport How this year’s freshmen can save the Congress — and themselves Democrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters 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 McCainTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Cindy McCain takes aim at Trump: We need a strong leader, 'not a negative Nancy' McCain would have said ‘enough’ to acrimony in midterms, says Cindy McCain MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump defends border deployment amid fresh scrutiny Sunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Veteran political reporter says New Hampshire voters have 'hunger' to moderate political turbulence MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Trump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (S.C.) and Reps. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdElection Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Midterm results shake up national map Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February MORE (Texas), Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupHouse GOP starts summer break on a note of friction House GOP’s August strategy: Americans ‘Better Off Now’ Obama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena MORE (Ohio) and Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartTrump attacks fuel GOP fears about losing suburban women GOP lawmaker: Trump comments about Stormy Daniels 'unpresidential' Lawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects 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 RosensteinMueller could turn easy Trump answers into difficult situation Attorneys want Supreme Court to determine legality of Whitaker as acting AG Top Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' 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 SchiffSunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover Heads up, GOP: Elections have consequences Top Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' 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.