National Security

The classified Intel memo: What you need to know

House Republicans are clamoring for the release of a classified memo that they say provides shocking new information about the FBI's investigation into possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The four-page House Intelligence Committee memo was written by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and his staff and is said to detail allegations that the FBI abused its surveillance powers.

The document has sparked a frenzy, even spawning a Twitter hashtag, #releasethememo.

Here's what you need to know about the memo.

Who has seen it?

Lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee voted last week, along party lines, to grant all House members access to the memo.

Nunes, however, rejected the request of Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to view the document this week. 

In addition to Nunes, an even smaller group of lawmakers have the security clearance to view the highly classified materials that support the conclusions draw in the memo. Only a core group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight, which includes Nunes and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), can view the underlying intelligence information.

A spokesman for Nunes told The Hill on Thursday that the committee has not briefed the White House on the contents of the memo.

How are the FBI and DOJ involved?

The panel will not allow the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI to view the documents, even though they have demanded access.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a senior member on the Intelligence Committee, said they are resisting the government's requests to view the documents because the FBI and DOJ had been slow to produce the information that Republicans used to produce the memo.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd in a Thursday letter to Nunes warned that making the information public would violate the information-sharing agreement the DOJ reached earlier this month with Nunes and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). He said releasing the memo without allowing the agencies to review potential cases of wrongdoing would be an "unprecedented" and "extraordinarily reckless" decision.

What does the memo say?

The contents of the document are shrouded in mystery.

Republican lawmakers who viewed the memo, however, have sounded the alarm about its contents. They say the document provides hard evidence of senior FBI and DOJ officials making politically motivated decisions that ultimately sparked special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russia.

Reporting indicates that the memo outlines allegations that the FBI used the controversial "Steele dossier" to obtain a surveillance warrant in fall 2016 against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Such surveillance warrants hardly ever rest on a single piece of information, however.

While Nunes says the memo is made up of "facts," Democrats have fiercely rejected that characterization, describing the document as "talking points," "misleading" or just flat out "lies," in some cases.

"I think the whole political purpose of this is to make a misleading case to the public, perpetuate the president's political narrative, but not let the public see the underlying materials that would show just how distorted it is - I think that's by design," said Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Schiff and other Democrats also insist the document cannot prove Republican lawmakers' allegations of corruption at the FBI because most of the GOP lawmakers expressing concern only have access to the memo - not the intelligence materials that are necessary to verify such claims.

Why is it controversial?

The memo comes as many GOP lawmakers are stepping up their attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation, which is looking into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Democrats are accusing Republicans of using the memo as a distraction as well as an attempt to undermine the credibility of Mueller's investigation, which is heating up with interviews that are reaching the president's inner circle.

Republicans say Democrats are ignoring evidence of wrongdoing and bias at the FBI.

Staunch conservatives, like GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mark Meadows (N.C,), assert that the contents of the memo are so incriminating that government officials could potentially face criminal prosecution.

Other GOP lawmakers said the memo could expose the basis for the Russia investigation as a fraud initiated by Obama-era government officials.

Republicans are suggesting that the FBI did not adequately explain to a clandestine court that some of the information it used to obtain a surveillance warrant for Page was the dossier, which contains unverified allegations about Trump's ties to Russia. Some work on the dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Nunes crafted the memo without consulting Democrats on the committee. Although Schiff, on Wednesday, announced plans to write a memo that would run counter to the claims Nunes's document makes, but he would need Nunes to hold a vote to release it.

The two memos from members of the same committee - the panel's senior leaders - serves as a further escalation of the bitter partisan fighting that has plagued the panel. 

Democrats are accusing their GOP colleagues of purposely plucking facts to fuel their own political narrative in an attempt to protect the president.

Is it ever going to be public?

As the hype over the memo rolls into its third week, Republicans appear to be moving toward a vote as soon as next week.

Nunes could call for a vote to release the memo. If a majority of members on the Intelligence Committee agree to make it public and if President Trump does not object, then the information will be released publicly. The White House has indicated that it is interested in its release.

"We certainly support full transparency, and we believe that's [up to] the House Intel Committee to make that choice at this point," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the White House press briefing on Tuesday.

If Trump, who has five days to block its release, vetoes the decision and sides with the Justice Department, the House could still override him in a floor vote.

The executive branch owns the underlying intelligence material so Trump, if he wanted to, could unilaterally make it public.

Nunes is under heavy pressure to release the memo from his Republican colleagues.

Gaetz along with 65 other lawmakers in a letter last week called on Nunes to release the memo, saying "the audience of this document should not be limited to Members of Congress - the American people deserve to know the information it contains."

-Updated Jan. 27 at 8:06 a.m.

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