President Donald Trump, hopeful that a controversial Republican memo about the FBI might undermine the Russia investigation, appeared poised Thursday to allow the document’s release.
Trump and his aides signaled throughout the day they would not use executive power to block Congress from making the memo public, setting up a clash with the FBI and intelligence officials, who warn the memo distorts facts and could jeopardize intelligence-gathering information. The document is said to allege the FBI abused its surveillance tools.
Trump himself reviewed and read the memo on Wednesday, White House officials told CNN, and discussed it with chief of staff John Kelly and the White House counsel’s office. Trump plans to tell Congress he has no objections to the memo’s release, a senior administration official said on Thursday.
More about the Nunes memo
In recent phone calls, Trump has told friends he believes the memo would expose bias within the FBI’s top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigations are prejudiced against him, according to two sources.
As the debate rages about whether the GOP memo is inaccurate and misleading – and whether it’s appropriate to reveal such classified intelligence at all – Trump appears to be more preoccupied with the political calculus. He views the memo as proof the intelligence community was unfairly targeting him and fodder for his ultimate goal of bringing an end to the Russia investigation that he has dubbed a “witch hunt,” sources said.
Many Republicans have backed Trump in pushing for the memo’s release, though they deny their motivations are related to the Russia investigation.
“If Americans’ civil liberties were abused, then that needs to come to light so that doesn’t happen again,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a Republican retreat in West Virginia on Thursday. “This memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice, it does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.”
His views were not shared by all Republicans. Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and John Thune, R-South Dakota, expressed misgivings about releasing the information contained in the document publicly.
Meanwhile, some White House officials downplayed the memo’s significance, saying the facts contained within the document have already been reported. The document was crafted by staff Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump ally.
Trump had a five-day window to block the memo’s public release after the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Monday to release it. The White House said it was conducting a national security and legal review before making a decision. But it wasn’t clear what precise steps – if any – the White House or Congress was taking to ease the concerns of the FBI and intelligence officials over the memo’s content.
Before the House Intelligence Committee sent the memo to the White House, the panel made certain changes to the document, though Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ on the number and substance of their alterations. Democrats say there were five changes, while Republicans insist there were only two. The changes prompted another spat between the leaders of the intelligence panel, with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff insisting lawmakers re-vote on the revised version.
A source familiar with the process of reviewing the memo said “accommodations” were made in response to concerns aired over the past two days, though the source indicated the steps weren’t initiated by the White House.
A White House official told reporters aboard Air Force One that the memo would likely be made public with no redactions.
“We have had over the last couple days to look at it to make sure it doesn’t give away too much in terms of classification,” the official said as Trump was returning from West Virginia, where he addressed GOP lawmakers. “Right now, I think it will be that we tell the Congress, probably tomorrow, that the President is OK with it.”
“I doubt there will be any redactions,” the official said. “Then it is in Congress’ hands after that.”
Whatever changes were made to the memo did not appear to placate the FBI, which had issued a rare public statement earlier in the week expressing “grave concerns” over the memo’s public release.
“There may be editing of the text of this memo, but that doesn’t change the overall false narrative,” a US official familiar with the FBI stance said on Thursday. “There are still grave concerns.”
Trump eager for release
The President continues to seethe over the Justice Department’s handling of nearly everything Russia-related, sources said. Recently, much of that anger has been directed toward his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller and the Russia investigation.
Trump has told his associates and aides he wants the memo released soon, believing that it could discredit the agency investigating possible collusion between his campaign associates and Russia.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah denied on Thursday that the purpose of releasing the memo was to undermine the Mueller probe an