What do we know about the secret GOP memo?
Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — What is the classified GOP memo?
The GOP memo is a classified document drafted by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes – a loyal Trump ally. According to some Republicans, it shows “shocking” misconduct by the FBI. Fox News host Sean Hannity, who apparently has not seen the memo, says it “makes Watergate look like stealing a Snickers bar from a drug store.” The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff – who says he has seen the underlying classified intelligence – describes the memo as a “profoundly misleading set of talking points drafted by Republican staff attacking the FBI and its handling of the [Russia] investigation.”
What’s in it?
It’s not clear exactly what the memo says. It has been viewed by only a small number of people, always in a classified setting. However, the New York Times reports the document alleges abuses by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, specifically when he authorized renewal of a FISA warrant used to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. According to the Times, the memo says those efforts to renew the surveillance warrant – as well as when it was originally sought – were based, in part, on the Christopher Steele dossier that included allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government – much of it, ABC News has reported, inflammatory and uncorroborated.
According to the Times, the memo contends that Rosenstein, the Justice Department and the FBI failed to adequately explain that to the judge who issued the warrant – as well as disclose that the Steele dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. It’s important to remember that all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants are approved by a judge in special FISA courts.
Can it be blocked from release?
On January 24 Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd sent a letter to Nunes’ office, saying it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without giving the Justice Department and the FBI a chance to review it first. Since then, FBI director Chris Wray has viewed at least part of the document during a meeting with Nunes on Sunday, according to sources.
Now DOJ spokesperson Sarah Flores tells ABC News the issue of recklessness is “moot,” because Wray has seen the GOP memo. Asked whether DOJ has a position now on whether the memo should be released, Flores declined comment.
On Monday the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release the memo.
Committee Republicans also rejected a request by Democrats to publicly release a Democratic counter memo based on the same underlying intelligence, but which Democrats said would show the GOP memo was based on “cherry-picked intelligence.” Republicans did allow the Democratic memo to be released to other House members for review.
The bottom line is that one way or another, congressional Republicans appear to have the power to make sure the memo gets publicly released.
When will it be released?
The only thing that can be said with certainty, according to White House officials, is that the memo would not be released before the president’s State of the Union address – and that Trump had not seen it as of Tuesday afternoon. Beyond that, it’s likely to be released sometime within the next several days.
The memo has been sent to the White House and is currently in a secure facility operated by the National Security Council. Sources say White House lawyers would want to see it and consult with the president before he makes a decision whether to release the memo.
According to House rules, beginning Tuesday, the president has five days to ask the House Intelligence Committee to NOT release the memo. If the president doesn’t move to block the release, the committee can release the memo on its own. Committee Republicans can also overrule the president by voting to refer the matter to the full House for a vote. It’s also possible the president could declassify the memo and release it himself at any time.
How does this memo tie into other investigations?
The contents of this memo could be examined by the Justice Department’s Inspector General. In January the DOJ’s IG announced it is investigating a litany of matters related to Justice Department and the FBI ahead of the 2016 election, including “underlying investigative decisions” in the Hillary Clinton email probe; former FBI director James Comey’s July 5, 2016, announcement saying no charges would be filed against Clinton; allegations that FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from certain cases including the Clinton email probe; and allegations that DOJ and FBI employees leaked information.
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