What we know about the secret Republican memo
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The contents of the controversial Republican memo alleging abuses by the Justice Department and FBI have been hotly debated and contested — and soon the American public will likely be able to read them in detail.
The four-page document, authored by the Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee, is currently classified but could be released as early as Friday, sources tell ABC News. The White House signaled Thursday that President Trump is likely to authorize the memo being made public despite “grave concerns” expressed by the FBI.
So why is the memo so controversial, and what is in it? Here is the latest ABC News reporting on the document capturing the attention of Washington and much of the country.
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, said it “makes Watergate look like stealing a Snickers bar from a drug store.” The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, who said he has seen the underlying classified intelligence, described 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. The memo has been kept in a classified setting and had only recently been made available to all House members. The underlying intelligence the memo draws from has only been reviewed by a select few members of the House and Senate. However, multiple sources familiar with the document tell ABC News that it suggests the FBI showed political bias against President Trump before and after his election.
According to the sources, the memo alleges that the FBI inappropriately relied on information obtained from a former British spy — working on a project funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign — to obtain a surveillance warrant in October 2016 on former Trump campaign official Carter Page, who had been suspected of being a Russian agent. It argues that the Justice Department, in its warrant application at the time, failed to inform an intelligence court judge that it was based in part on research funded by Democrats, the sources said. And the memo references the actions of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who later supported a renewal of the surveillance warrant request regarding Page after Donald Trump took office.
Sources who have reviewed the document could not provide documentation or evidence to corroborate those claims. ABC News has not seen the memo or any underlying pieces of intelligence, which have only been viewed by a select handful of members of Congress. It’s also important to remember that all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants are approved by a judge in special FISA courts.
Democrats who have viewed the memo or the underlying intelligence said Republicans have cherry-picked information to support their conclusions. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has viewed the underlying intelligence the memo draws from, told Politico that Republicans are “connecting dots that don’t connect.”
Can it be blocked from release?
On Jan. 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. In a statement Wednesday, the FBI expressed “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Over those objections, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the memo. The White House said Thursday that President Trump is inclined to formally support that decision.
Meanwhile, the FBI has been lobbying the administration to keep it under wraps. In a statement on Wednesday, the FBI expressed “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Democrats have put together a 10-page memo that they say refutes the Republican allegations by citing information Democrats say was selectively left out. Sources who have viewed the document, which has been made available to the full House but not made public, said it paints a fuller picture of the surveillance application and underlying intelligence that formed the basis of the request, including new information about why the FBI wanted to surveil Page. But committee Republicans have so far blocked Democrats’ request to release their document simultaneously with the GOP memo.
Wednesday night, Schiff complained to Nunes that Republicans had made “material” changes to their memo after the committee voted to release it and send it to the White House. He argued that because the memo the White House was reviewing was not the one voted on, the president could not review it or authorize its release. A Nunes spokesman claimed the changes were minor — including grammatical edits and some requested by the FBI and Democrats — and said Democrats were making a strange attempt to thwart publication.
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?
It’s likely to be released sometime within the next several days. President Trump has reviewed the memo and is expected on Friday to formally approve of the committee’s decision to make it public. Once that is done, it’s up to Republicans on the committee to release the document.
House rules do not clearly lay out how the memo would be made public, but sources familiar with the process told ABC News that they expect the memo to be released Friday after the committee receives notice from the White House. The memo could be entered into the Congressional Record when the House is back in session on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., barring any changes to the floor schedule.
Most House Republicans are at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, through Friday afternoon for a party retreat. 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 inspector general 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 Justice Department and FBI employees leaked information.
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