Sen. Richard Burr's staff requested a copy of the memo and has been denied
Democrats say that the memo is "profoundly misleading" in its conclusions
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr’s staff has not been given access to a classified memo drafted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a sign of how closely House Republicans are guarding allegations of Justice Department wrongdoing over surveillance activities in the Russia investigation.
According to three sources familiar with the matter, Burr’s staff requested a copy of the memo and has been denied, just as the FBI and Justice Department have also been denied reviewing a copy of the document. The memo is based on highly classified intelligence that only a select group of House and Senate lawmakers have accessed.
Indeed, the memo was drafted by Nunes, R-California, and his staff, as the chairman weighs whether to hold a committee vote as early as next week calling for the memo’s public release.
The four-page Nunes memo alleges that the FBI withheld information from the FISA court judge who approved warrants on Donald Trump’s team, including former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, CNN has reported.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Commitee are now pushing for the release of their own memo, calling on the panel to allow the full chamber to review their document next week, saying the Nunes memo is “profoundly misleading” and an attempt to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But many House Republicans say the American public would be alarmed by the conclusions in the Nunes memo alleging FBI misconduct.
Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirmed to CNN that the panel had not been given access to the Nunes memo.
“None of the senators have access to it,” Lankford added, saying “right” when asked if the committee had been denied access to the memo after making its request.
This comes as the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee called Wednesday for the public release of the underlying intelligence behind the Nunes memo.
“Based on what I know, I agree that as much of this information should be made public as soon as possible through the appropriate process,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have conducted separate investigations over the past year into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump team. The two committees have received many of the same documents each requested by members of Trump’s team, though the panels don’t typically share information like transcripts of their interviews.
Still, the Nunes memo has generated high interest across the Capitol given the seriousness of the allegations, and prominent senators have shown an interest in viewing the document. Burr’s assessment would be significant as he is one of the few lawmakers with access to all of the underlying intelligence.
Burr, R-North Carolina, has kept his public distance from the House investigation and Nunes, particularly Nunes’ concerns over the “unmasking” of Trump officials in intelligence documents, as well as the recent dust-up over missing FBI text messages provided to Congress.
Burr declined to comment on the memo or whether he or his staff had viewed the document. Burr said he would not discuss “anything that goes on with what we did or didn’t ask for, what we did or didn’t get, what we did or didn’t conclude.”
“It’s Devin’s memo so you need to ask him what it means. I sort of don’t discuss anything that is part of our investigation, so I’ll leave it up to him to describe,” Burr said.
A spokesman for Nunes did not respond to a request for comment.
Soon the debate over the memo is likely to be fought in the open, as Nunes and the committee’s Republicans are preparing to use an obscure committee rule to vote to release it, as well as potentially some of the supporting documents. The committee’s vote to allow its release would kick the decision to the President, who is inclined to let it be released, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Trump, an official said, has been briefed by aides on the Nunes memo and the process that it would have to go through in order to be released. If the House Intelligence Committee votes to release the document, Trump has five days to object, according to White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah. During that period, the White House will run a full interagency and national security review and the President will be advised before making a decision, according to Shah.
If the President doesn’t object, the document will be released. But if he does, the full House would then be able to vote for its release.
Until that happens, however, it appears that the memo will continue to be guarded from those who don’t serve in the House.
The House Intelligence Committee voted last week to allow all House members to read the memo in the committee’s secure spaces, but the invitation was not extended to senators.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, who sits on the intelligence committee, was briefed on the memo by Nunes, but did not view the document. And Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky requested to read it and was turned down, according to Paul spokesman Sergio Gor.
“I think there’s a lot of concerns about people with conflicts of interest and people who were motivated more by politics than anything else at the FBI and Department of Justice,” Cornyn told CNN when asked if he was concerned about what he had been briefed on.
On the Democratic side, the House Intelligence Committee staff briefed their Senate Intelligence Committee counterparts on the memo, according to two sources.
“I have not seen the memo, but I think it is sloppy, careless, and again, I think has no grounding in fact,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has called the memo a “profoundly misleading set of talking points drafted by Republican staff attacking the FBI and its handling of the investigation.”