House Intel votes to release Dem countermemo
The House Intelligence Committee on Monday voted unanimously to release a memo drafted by Democrats to rebut a GOP-crafted document alleging surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The 10-page classified document now goes to President Trump, who has five days to block its release if he so chooses. It remains an open question whether he will.
Trump on Friday declassified the Republican document, which was drafted by staff for House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Trump claimed the memo “totally vindicates” him in the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s alleged links to Russia.
The central thrust of the Nunes memo is that senior DOJ officials inappropriately relied on a piece of opposition research paid for in part by Hillary Clinton to obtain a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that without the so-called Steele dossier, no surveillance warrants would have been sought.
The Democratic memo is expected to lay out a point-by-point rebuttal of the assertions in the Nunes memo and make the case that the FBI had good reason to spy on Page as part of the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign.
A decision by the Trump White House to block its publication would almost certainly set off a firestorm of accusations from Democrats that he is attempting to obstruct justice.
The White House has signaled that it is open to allowing the release of the Democratic memo, but included a caveat for national security protections.
“The administration stands ready to work with Congress to accommodate oversight requests consistent with applicable standards, including the need to protect intelligence sources and methods,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in reference to the Democrats’ memo.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the panel, said on Monday that the FBI and DOJ already have a copy of the document, but that they had not yet provided any feedback. He expressed concerns that the White House would attempt to redact the document to protect itself.
“We want to make sure the White House does not redact our memo for political purposes and obviously that’s a deep concern,” Schiff told reporters after the vote.
Some committee Republicans who have seen the Democratic memo had previously said it is highly detailed and would need to be heavily redacted before release. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has also alluded to the need to protect intelligence sources and methods in offering tempered support for its release.
“If it is scrubbed to ensure it does not reveal sources and methods of our intelligence gathering, the speaker supports the release of the Democrats’ memo,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said in a statement last week.
Republicans appear split on the need for redactions in the document. According to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a senior member of the panel who is leading its investigation into Russia’s election interference, the document has 36 footnotes that he believes “are way too precise” and will almost certainly have to be blacked out — although he noted the main body of the document is likely on sounder footing.
But, he noted, “Mr. Schiff thinks there are [things that should be redacted], otherwise he wouldn’t have made it such a big deal about having the FBI and Department of Justice scrub their memo.”
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told reporters that he did not think there was much material in the Democratic memo that would need to be redacted, but he said he did not think it was an accurate representation “for a million different reasons.”
“Just from my reading of it, I don’t think there was much in there that would be redacted,” he said. “I’m all for letting the people see it and decide for themselves.”
Nunes declined to speak to reporters after the vote.
If Trump does block the document’s release, the full House can override him and force the publication of the memo.
Rooney told reporters after the vote that he did not anticipate the president to reject the publication of the document, but declined to comment on whether that would kickstart a full-chamber vote.
“I don’t think he’s going to do that but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.
Intelligence Committee Republicans last week voted down a measure that would have made the Democratic memo public at the same time as the Nunes memo.
The panel did vote to make the document available to the entire House, as it had previously done with the Republican memo.
“It is our expectation that our memo will be going to the White House tonight, so as of tonight, that five-day clock is ticking,” Schiff said.
Updated at 7:22 p.m.
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