House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Tuesday he is in favor of the public release of a memo, which alleges the FBI abused its surveillance tools, but said he is telling GOP House members that there needs to be separation between those allegations and the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“I think because of all the loose political rhetoric floating around here, we need to make sure we explain that there is a separation between these things,” the Wisconsin Republican said. Asked if he was delivering that message to his conference, some of whom have pointed to the memo as reason to disband the special counsel probe altogether, Ryan answered: “Yes.”
But Ryan made a point to defend the special prosecutor, saying, “this is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller’s investigation and his investigation should be allowed to take its course.”
He also praised the deputy attorney, who some say should be fired, “I think Rod Rosenstein is doing a fine job,”
On the memo, which was written by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Ryan didn’t hedge.
“I think we should disclose all this stuff. I think sources and methods we’ve gotta protect, no two ways about it for sure, 100%,” he said. “But I think disclosure is the way to go. It’s the best disinfectant. And I think we need to disclose, that brings us accountability, that brings us transparency, that helps us clean up any problem we have with (the Justice Department) and FBI.”
Defending the release of the memo the speaker said “there may have been malfeasance at the FBI.”
He pointed out that Rosenstein was hired after the 2016 elections but added, “I think the people at FBI and at the DOJ need to clean their own house if there are problems in their house and I think that’s really important.”
He also said the release of the classified document drafted by Nunes was needed because there are “legitimate questions about whether an Americans’ civil liberties were violated by the FISA process.”
He said it’s Congress’ jobs to have oversight over the executive branch if there is evidence of abuse.
Ryan said for those arguing that the Democratic memo should also be released, they needed to follow the process, which meant members more broadly should read it and review it to remove details on intelligence sources.
Ryan said he did not see a need to wait for a dueling Democratic memo to be approved for release before the Nunes memo was made public.
Pressed on why the GOP shouldn’t just hold back the Nunes memo and release both at the same, the speaker said, “we’re going to go through the process as the process is laid out and it’s ironic that the majority votes to actually give access to this memo while the minority voted to deny that access so I think that irony is a little rich here these days.”
Ryan’s position underscores the divide between House Republicans who are pushing for the memo’s release and many Senate Republicans, who are urging caution and siding with the Justice Department.
Ryan has consistently sided with Nunes over the Justice Department. Earlier this month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray met with Ryan over the department’s dispute with Nunes, trying to gauge where the speaker stood relating to Nunes’ outstanding subpoena demands, CNN reported. Ryan sided with Nunes, saying the department needed to comply with the panel’s requests, sources said.
The committee’s vote Monday to release the memo 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 memo from Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, 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.
Following the vote in the House Intelligence Committee, the White House has five days to decide whether to release the memo. Trump is “very likely” to release the memo detailing alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department, a source familiar with the President’s thinking told CNN on Tuesday.
This story has been updated and will continue to update with new developments.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.