Several lawmakers have seen intelligence behind Nunes memo
Only a handful of lawmakers had seen intelligence backing up a controversial memo spearheaded by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) when the panel voted on Monday to release it — frustrating Democrats as well as the Justice Department.
But outside the House Intelligence Committee, the pool of lawmakers who looked at the underlying information, a tranche of documents provided by the Justice Department as part of a Nunes-led investigation into surveillance abuses at the FBI, was broader — and appears to have grown in the two days since the vote.
According to a review by The Hill, confirmed by Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, at least seven members or their staff, beyond a core group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight, had reviewed the underlying material as of last week.
Flores told The Hill that “bipartisan viewing was done on a committee-by-committee basis.”
Those members are mostly lawmakers serving on the House and Senate Judiciary committees, which have jurisdiction over the Department of Justice.
This group includes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Vice Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who sit on the panel.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) or their staff viewed the document as well, according to the list provided by the Justice Department.
GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) viewed the documents this week — after the vote.
According to a transcript of the closed-door meeting released Wednesday, ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) were the only people on the committee to have reviewed the supporting intelligence.
“When all of this information is made available, there will be an accounting for all of us based on what is true,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said Monday night during the vote meeting, according to a transcript released on Wednesday.
“If it turns out that the majority memo is wrong there will be hell to pay. If it turns out that the minority memo is wrong, there will be hell to pay,” he said.
The Gang of Eight — consisting of the top Republican and Democrat in both the House and Senate, and the leaders from both parties on the Senate and House Intelligence committees — was long assumed to have had access to the underlying intelligence, though Senate lawmakers were blocked from viewing the Nunes memo.
The Nunes document is not yet public and it remains unclear what proof it offers of FBI misconduct.
“It’s what we believe based on what we’ve researched,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) said when the memo was first made available to House members.
Nunes has previously brushed aside the notion that the memo wouldn’t be persuasive without the underlying intelligence to substantiate its claims, characterizing the document as “facts” and calling the argument Democratic obstruction of his investigation into Justice Department misconduct.
But Democrats have argued that Republicans have cherry-picked information and that without access to the underlying material, the document cannot be taken as proof of the allegations it contains.
“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,” Schiff has previously said.
“The problem is, we can’t point out the inaccuracies without relying on the underlying material,” he said.
The Justice Department has made similar complaints, with Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd writing in a letter to Nunes that voting to release the document “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.”
The FBI, in a rare public statement on Wednesday, characterized the document as misleading, saying it has “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Boyd also suggested in his letter to Nunes that releasing the memo publicly would break the terms of the deal they made to provide the documents in the first place. The agreement was brokered by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected that claim.
The release of the Nunes memo is now in the hands of the president, who was given five days following the vote to reject its publication on national security grounds. He is widely expected to release it.
The Intelligence panel on Monday voted down several Democratic measures, including an effort to publicly release a countermemo rebutting the claims in the Nunes memo. They voted to make that document available to the entire House, as the Nunes memo was several weeks ago.
Committee Republicans also voted down a measure from Schiff that would have delayed the publication of the Nunes memo until the Department of Justice had briefed House members on the implications of exposing it.
“The Department of Justice and the FBI have been under investigation by this committee for many, many months for FISA abuse and other matters,” Nunes said on Monday, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows government spying. “That investigation continues. And I would urge my colleagues to vote ‘no.’ We are not going to be briefed by people that are under investigation by this committee.”
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 Clinton’s campaign, now known as the “Steele dossier.”
“We’ve taken the position that this is a serious issue that needs to be disclosed to the public,” Rep. Mike Conaway (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.
This story was updated at 11:04 a.m. to show that Rep. Ratcliffe has seen the underlying documents.
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