FBI condemns Nunes memo for ‘omissions,’ escalating feud
The FBI on Wednesday issued an extraordinary public statement condemning the Republican push to release a classified memo that alleges surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice.
The statement placed the bureau at odds not only with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), whose staff crafted the memo, but also with President Trump himself, who has expressed his desire for the document to be released.
The broadside from the FBI — an agency that rarely makes public statements — was almost certainly approved by Trump’s own FBI director, Christopher Wray, escalating an increasingly bitter feud between the nation’s top law enforcement agency and the Republican Party.
“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the FBI statement said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Senior Justice Department officials, including Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, have lobbied both the committee and the White House against the release of the document.
The FBI has been in Republican crosshairs for months, with some conservatives asserting there is political bias against Trump at the highest levels of law enforcement. Before Wednesday, the Justice Department’s efforts to combat those attacks had largely taken place behind closed doors or in measured testimony before congressional committees.
But the battle is moving into the public arena now that Republicans have given the White House a memo, drawn from highly classified Justice Department materials, that they say shows shocking misconduct at the FBI.
Nunes, who describes the memo as facts based on research into Justice Department misconduct, pushed back hard at the FBI’s statement, calling the bureau’s objections “spurious.”
“The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts,” he said. “Regardless, it’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign. Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
The furor over the memo comes at a time when the president has grown bitterly frustrated with the federal investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia. He has repeatedly derided the investigation as a “witch hunt,” tweeted that the FBI’s reputation is in “tatters” and called for the removal of senior FBI officials whom he views as biased against him.
The memo, which is not yet public, is believed to contain allegations that investigators inappropriately relied on information drawn from opposition research paid for in part by Hillary’s Clinton presidential campaign to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Initially, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sought to convince Nunes not to release the memo by arguing that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to publish it without allowing the FBI to conduct a rigorous review to flag potential national security concerns.
The committee at first stonewalled the bureau from viewing the document at all, because, as panel member Mike Conaway (R-Texas) argued, “they’re the ones that have the problem.” Wray was reportedly later allowed to view the document in the committee’s secure spaces at the Capitol.
Now, the bureau appears to argue that the report is misleading — an argument already made publicly by Democrats, who say it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling and the Trump campaign.
“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” the bureau said in its statement, referring to the law that allows surveillance of foreign targets — including Americans believed to be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
“We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process,” the statement said.
The House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release the document publicly over the strident objections of committee Democrats, who say Republicans are attempting to politicize the intelligence process at the expense of national security. Bureau officials are privately expressing the same concern, according to reporting from The New York Times.
One former FBI official who spoke to The Hill suggested that Wednesday’s statement was a straightforward attempt to counter what the bureau sees as misleading claims in the memo.
“For sure the FBI doesn’t want to get into a ‘he said/she said’ with House Intel but somewhere, sometime they’re going to have to get the facts out, which I assume supports their position,” Ron Hosko, a former assistant director, told The Hill in an email.
“I suspect that’s more likely the truth about their motivation than any desire to damage [Trump],” he wrote.
The decision to release the document now rests with Trump, who has five days to decide whether to allow its publication.
Caught on a hot mic on Tuesday night after delivering his first State of the Union address, Trump told Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) that he would “100 percent” release the memo.
The White House has insisted the document will go through a normal multiagency review process to ensure its release will not jeopardize national security.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, on Wednesday indicated the White House plans to release the memo soon.
“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said during an interview on Fox News Radio. “This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds.”
– Updated at 10:20 a.m.