The House Intelligence Committee on Monday evening voted to make public a GOP-crafted memo alleging what some Republicans say are “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
At the same time, the committee voted against making public a Democrat-drafted countermemo.
While the panel voted to release that memo to the entire House, Republicans expressed concern that publicly releasing the minority memo would damage sensitive intelligence sources and methods, according to Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member.
Both votes — to release the GOP memo and withhold the Democratic one — were along party lines.
The move ends weeks of speculation over whether the memo, which was drafted by staff for Intelligence Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Florida Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick sworn in as newest House member GOP lawmaker adheres to term limit pledge, won't run for reelection MORE (R-Calif.), would be made public. But it intensifies the dispute over what Democrats say is an all-out assault by Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Stone-faced committee Democrats appeared in a phalanx after the vote, decrying what Schiff described as the crossing of “a deeply regrettable line in this committee, where for the first time in the 10 years I’ve been on the committee, there was a vote to politicize the declassification process of intelligence.”
The document will not be immediately released — but could be at any time this week. Under the arcane House rule Republicans used to override the classification of the four-page memo, the document goes to President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' On student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Grill company apologizes after sending meatloaf recipe on same day of rock star's death MORE, who has up to five days to review and reject or approve its publication.
The White House has signaled support for the document’s release and is widely expected to defy the DOJ and make the memo public. The DOJ has opposed the release of the document, reportedly infuriating Trump.
Some Republicans who have read the Nunes memo have hinted heavily that it contains information that could unravel the entire Mueller investigation, long described by the president as a “witch hunt.”
The precise contents of the memo remain unknown. However, it’s believed to contain allegations that the FBI did not adequately explain to a clandestine court that some of the information it used in a surveillance warrant application for Trump adviser Carter Page came from opposition research partially funded by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE’s campaign, now known as the “Steele dossier.”
The document spotlights Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE’s role in approving the warrant application, according to The New York Times. Rosenstein appointed Mueller and has become a recent target on the right — as well as reportedly garnering the frustration of the president.
“We’ve taken the position that this is a serious issue that needs to be disclosed to the public,” Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm If Congress can't work together to address child hunger we're doomed Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm MORE (R-Texas) told reporters after the vote. The memo will not need to be redacted, he said, as the panel has no concerns that its release will damage national security.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications require multiple levels of authentication and require investigators to show probable cause that an individual is acting as an agent of a foreign power. To date, there has been no public evidence that DOJ officials abused the FISA process.
While Nunes has described the memo as “facts,” Democrats have slammed it as a collection of misleading talking points they are unable to correct without exposing the highly classified information underpinning the document.
It’s unclear how much input the DOJ will have prior to the publication of the memo. Typically, when sensitive documents are declassified, the agencies with equities in the intelligence weigh in to assess whether its release would damage national security.
Releasing the memo without allowing them to review it on those grounds, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Nunes, would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
Still, the committee initially stonewalled the DOJ from viewing the document because, as Conaway put it last week, “They’re the ones that have the problem.”
On Monday morning, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah hinted on CNN that the DOJ would also not have an opportunity to review the document during the White House prerelease review.
“The Department of Justice doesn’t have a role in this process,” he told CNN.
FBI Director Christopher Wray was reportedly allowed to view the document in the committee’s secure spaces over the weekend. A committee spokesperson declined to comment on Monday, as did the FBI.
Conaway did not rule out the possibility that the Intelligence Committee may vote at a later date to release the Democratic memo.
“The House hasn’t had a chance to look at the minority report, nor have we,” he said, adding that he would support a vote to release it. “That’ll come later, after the House has had a chance to look at it.”
It’s also unclear what will happen with the highly classified intelligence that underpins the memo, which came from documents provided to the committee by the DOJ as part of an agreement brokered by House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection MORE (R-Wis.). The DOJ has said the memo’s release would break the terms of that deal, an assertion that spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes reject.
That topic was not broached on Monday night, according to lawmakers.
Lawmakers say the underlying intelligence justifying the memo’s allegations is so sensitive that only eight members of Congress are able to view it. Nunes and Schiff are two of the eight figures, but the other members of the Intelligence Committee are not. The top two lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee are also part of the so-called Gang of Eight, but while they have access to the underlying intelligence, Nunes has denied committee requests to see the memo.
“Seeking Committee approval of public release would require [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] committee members to vote on a staff-drafted memorandum that purports to be based on classified source materials that neither you nor most of them have seen,” Boyd told Nunes.
Nunes has brushed aside the notion that the memo wouldn’t be persuasive without the underlying intelligence to substantiate its claims, calling the argument Democratic obstruction of his investigation into DOJ misconduct.
But a working group, including Nunes, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), met over the weekend to discuss the possibility of making some of the underlying information public. Nunes has “a plan,” committee member Conaway said last week but provided no further details.
Other Republicans suggested Monday that plan may be dead in the water. Asked prior to the meeting Monday if there was a plan to release any of the underlying intelligence, Gowdy replied, “Not that I know of.”
The memo is a committee work product and the responsibility for releasing it, or not releasing it, rests with Congress.
The underlying intelligence, however, belongs to the executive branch, and Trump could unilaterally make it public if he wished.