Republicans consider releasing classified intel behind memo alleging FISA abuses
WASHINGTON — Top House Republicans are considering publicly releasing some of the underlying intelligence behind a memo spearheaded by Rep. Devin Nunes that alleges FBI abuses of surveillance laws.
Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, met with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy while the House was in session during the shutdown this weekend to discuss the prospect of releasing some of the intelligence to support the findings of the classified memo, which was prepared by Nunes and Republican committee staff, multiple Republican lawmakers told CNN.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, confirmed that the three chairmen were meeting about moving the process forward under House rules.
Republicans on and off the House Intelligence Committee are pushing for the release of Nunes’ four-page memo alleging abuses of the surveillance law known as FISA related to the opposition research dossier on President Donald Trump and Russia. The committee could use an obscure rule to bypass the normal declassification process, with a vote that would put the decision to make the memo public in the President’s hands.
“It’s like any document you put out, it should be referenced, footnoted — it should have the appropriate underlying reference to the material and to the degree that you can, show that material,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who has called for the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller and the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I think the memo is accurate, but I think just because we know what the other side’s argument is going to be, you need that,” Jordan added.
Democrats say the memo’s findings are skewed and contain no more than partisan talking points, and they warn that releasing the memo will harm Congress’ relationships with the Justice Department and intelligence community.
But Republicans appear to be charging ahead with their plan to publicly release the document and potentially some of the underlying intelligence so long as sources and methods are not disclosed.
“If we’re going to go through the process anyway of declassifying the memo, are there some of the supporting documents that might not reveal sources and methods but might answer key questions that the memo does raise?” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who has been among the most vocal Republican critics of Mueller’s probe. “Chairman Goodlate and Chairman Gowdy and Chairman Nunes each sort of have jurisdiction over elements, and they are meeting and discussing a process now that I think will lead to greater transparency.”
Nunes declined to comment on his discussions with Gowdy and Goodlatte. “I don’t talk about committee business,” Nunes said.
Gowdy and Goodlatte’s offices did not respond to a request for comment.
The Nunes memo focuses on the FBI’s use of the dossier on President Trump and Russia compiled by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and paid for through Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The document alleges that the FISA judge who signed off on surveillance warrants for members of President Trump’s team during the campaign was not given full information about the dossier that was used in at least one application, including that it was paid for by the Democratic sources, CNN reported Saturday.
CNN first reported last April that the dossier was used as part of the justification with the secret FISA court to monitor the communications of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
While the FBI used information beyond the dossier to support the court application, the dossier was cited in footnotes to specific allegations, according to current and former US officials briefed on the matter. Steele was considered by the bureau to be a credible FBI source, so using the material was not out of line with FBI practice, according to the current and former officials.
On Thursday, the Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to allow all House members to view the four-page classified memo, which has sparked a conservative effort to release it, complete with a Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo.
Democrats have accused the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee of using a set of talking points to try to discredit the FBI and protect Trump.
“Their only priority is to protect the President and their political fortune, and they’re willing to burn down the FBI and anything else if they need to do it,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel. “It would be a real betrayal of the intelligence community for partisan political reasons.”
Conaway, however, argued that the executive branch would still have the chance to review and weigh in on making the materials public, as the committee rules give the President five days to object if the committee votes to make the document public.
“We believe it’s important enough, given the players involved, to take this step, and there’s one other step before those, and that is the White House gets to make an independent review of that,” Conaway said.
President Trump himself has been skeptical of the intelligence community and FBI, and he calls the Russia investigations and the dossier a “hoax” and “witch hunt.”
“I would not expect President Trump to want to keep these things from the public,” Gaetz said.