President Donald Trump’s chief of staff said on Wednesday the White House would soon allow for the release of a highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools.
John Kelly, speaking on a Fox News radio program, said Trump and his team were reviewing the document produced by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, and would open it to the public shortly.
“The memo came over, we’ve got our folks, our national security lawyers in the White House that work for me and the President, slicing and dicing it, looking at it so we know what it means and what it understands,” he told host Brian Kilmeade.
“It’ll be released here pretty quick, I think. And the whole world can see it,” Kelly said, adding that he’d viewed the memo himself.
The announcement came as questions mounted about the White House’s own role in creating the document. Trump’s spokeswoman said Wednesday morning she didn’t know whether any West Wing aides were involved in the memo’s production.
“We have certainly coordinated with members of Congress as is appropriate. As to specifics on this, I just don’t know the answer,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“I’m not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes,” Sanders said.
During the House Intelligence Committee’s business meeting on Monday to vote on releasing the Nunes memo, Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley pressed Nunes about whether he or his staff had coordinated with the White House on the memo, Quigley told CNN on Wednesday.
Quigley said Nunes became “quite agitated” when pressed whether any of his staffers were involved in producing the memo, and refused to answer the question.
“I fully believe that Chairman Nunes has not changed his tactics. He began this investigation as a subsidiary of the White House, as someone who was coordinating with them rather than being an independent investigator,” Quigley said. “There’s reasonable belief that he was involved all the time.”
Nunes has also repeatedly declined to talk about the work in preparing the document, claiming, “I don’t talk about committee business” when asked about the memo.
Democratic suspicions that Nunes has coordinated with the White House stem from last year, when he took a secret trip to the White House to review intelligence gathered by two White House staffers about the “unmasking” of Trump’s team in foreign intelligence collected during the Obama administration. Nunes then briefed Trump about his findings, despite the information coming from the White House.
The whole episode ultimately led to Nunes temporarily stepping aside as leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation amid an Ethics Committee investigation over whether he revealed classified information. Nunes was cleared by the committee in December.
The memo has caused a firestorm in Washington and is the latest chapter in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Republicans claim the memo needs to be released because it shows abuse of power by law enforcement officials, while Democrats maintain it is nothing more than an attempt to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“We are still going to complete the legal and national security review that has to take place before putting something out publicly,” Sanders said Wednesday. “That is the place where we are right now.”
She added that the interagency review will be “taking place at the White House today.”
White House aides have long stood behind the interagency review as a way to deflect questions about the controversial memo. But Trump undercut that talking point on Tuesday by telling Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina, who urged him to release the memo, not to worry.
“Don’t worry, 100%,” Trump was overheard responding as he departed the House chamber following his State of the Union address. “Can you imagine?”
His remarks were caught on a live camera feed from the House floor.
Sanders said on CNN Wednesday that there is “always a chance” Trump could decide not to release the memo but added that she was unaware whether Trump had actually read the document.
However, hours before Trump’s comments to Duncan, Sanders issued a statement saying there are “no current plans” to release the memo.
The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines on Monday to release the classified document, which was then quickly sent to the White House for review. The memo claims the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over its use of the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia as part of the case to obtain a FISA warrant on former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
The process could last up to five days, according to White House officials, but it is possible that they could approve publishing the document sooner.
To date, though, White House, National Security Council and intelligence agency officials have declined to comment on what goes into such a review process. An official told CNN that the document is currently being reviewed and the findings could be presented to Trump as early as Wednesday.
Trump, who has been under a constant pressure campaign from Republican lawmakers and conservative media to release the memo, is eager to get it into the public eye, two people familiar with the matter tell CNN. But he decided against releasing it before delivering his State of the Union address, given that it would likely have stepped on the message he was hoping to send.
A decision by Trump to release the memo would pit him against his own Justice Department, which has warned that doing so would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
FBI Director Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made that case to Kelly during a meeting on Monday, but it appears that Trump, given his comments on Tuesday, is undeterred by the warning.