The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Monday to publicly release a classified memo written by Republicans alleging FBI abuses in the agency’s surveillance, an aggressive move that could feed a GOP push to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and ratchets up a battle with the Justice Department.
The committee’s vote to release the memo spearheaded by Chairman Devin Nunes means that the four-page classified document could be made public this week. But in another party-line vote, the committee voted against making a competing Democratic memo from Rep. Adam Schiff of California available as well.
The Nunes memo says the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over its use of the opposition research dossier on Donald Trump and Russia as part of the case to obtain a FISA warrant for former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. It cites the roles of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and outgoing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe in overseeing aspects of the investigation, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Under an obscure committee rule to make the classified memo public, which has never been invoked in the panel’s 40-plus-year history, the President now has five days following the vote to decide whether to allow the public release to move forward or object to it.
The House Intelligence Committee memo was couriered to the White House on Monday evening, according to spokesman Hogan Gidley, and will be reviewed.
The committee did vote to allow Schiff’s memo to be viewed by all House members, the same step that was taken with the Nunes memo earlier this month. But the committee’s Democrats – who charge that the Nunes memo is skewed and is an effort to undercut Mueller’s investigation – say the vote was a political tactic.
“All that is a delaying tactic – they want first shot for an independent period of time where the only thing anyone can see is their book report,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat. “What is added by the whole House reviewing it? None of them have seen the underlying materials, and none of them have had the year plus evaluation of reading all the documents elsewhere, interviewing everyone.”
Schiff told reporters after the vote that the committee took a vote “to politicize the declassification process and potentially compromise sources and methods.”
The California Democrat’s memo serves as a rebuttal to the Nunes memo, and it argues that proper procedures were followed in obtaining the FISA warrant, according to a source familiar with the document.
Republicans on the panel say they’re simply using the same process with the Democratic memo that they did with the Republican one, and that they would be open to also making the Democratic document public once the full House can review it.
“The House hasn’t had a chance to look at the minority report, nor have we,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the committee’s Russia investigation.
Before the vote, FBI Director Chris Wray was given the chance to review the Nunes memo and raise concerns about factual inaccuracies or national security concerns.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said he lobbied Nunes to allow Wray and Rosenstein to review the memo before the committee voted to release it. Nunes agreed to allow Wray to view it, Gowdy said.
Nunes declined to comment, saying he does not discuss committee business.
Schiff said Wray also offered to brief the committee before the memo was released but the Republicans did not accept the invitation.
“They were not willing to meet with the director of the FBI to hear the bureau’s concerns or department’s concerns,” Schiff said.
The committee did not vote Monday to release any of the underlying intelligence supporting the memo, which some conservatives were pushing for to help bolster the arguments in it.
Now that the vote has occurred, the President will decide whether the release will proceed, which could pit him against his own Justice Department.
Trump, who has called the Russia investigation a hoax and witch hunt, is inclined to release the memo, CNN has reported. But the Justice Department sent Nunes a letter last week saying it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without giving the department the opportunity to review it for possible concerns with national security and ongoing investigations.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said on CNN’s “New Day” Monday that releasing the memo could “send a message of accountability” in the US intelligence community.
“It could shed light on allegations that have existed for a long time,” Shah told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, adding that Trump hasn’t seen the memo.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is deferring to Nunes over whether to release the memo, an aide to the speaker said Monday. The speaker’s move all but ensures that the Justice Department won’t get much backing within the House Republican conference, and underscores the divide between House Republicans who pushed for the memo’s release and many Senate Republicans, who urged caution and sided with the Justice Department.
The House Intelligence Committee voted to allow all House members to read the memo, but it has kept it guarded from others. In addition to the FBI and Justice Department, the House panel did not grant a request from the Senate Intelligence Committee to view the document.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.