The FBI said it is gravely concerned about the impending release of a memo from House Republicans that alleges the bureau abused its surveillance powers.
“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the spokesperson said.
President Donald Trump has just a few days to decide whether he will support a move to release the memo, which could be public as soon as this week.
The FBI also said it “takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”
FISA is a reference to the law and process of obtaining a surveillance warrant against a suspected agent of a hostile foreign power. Committee chairman Devin Nunes’ memo alleges anti-Trump forces in senior levels of the FBI and Justice Department manipulated that process to acquire a FISA warrant against Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy official.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to comment on whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions shares the bureau’s concerns about the memo.
Last week, the Justice Department's top Capitol Hill liaison Stephen Boyd, sent Nunes a letter cautioning that release of the memo without FBI vetting would be "extraordinarily reckless." Boyd also wrote that the bureau was unaware of any evidence of wrongdoing related to issues the memo discusses.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was instrumental in drafting that letter, a person familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast, and the letter reflected his strong concerns about the memo's content and release. And though a Justice Department spokesperson said the letter is "no longer operative" as Wray has read the memo, there's no evidence Rosenstein's concerns have been allayed. The Department of Justice has not disputed the FBI's statement ripping the memo.
The memo has galvanized President Donald Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill. They say it includes evidence of grave corruption in the highest levels of the bureau. Meanwhile, Democrats—and, now, the FBI itself—say the memo is fundamentally flawed.
The forceful FBI response comes as Trump must make a decision by Friday on whether he will agree to release the memo—as his congressional and media supporters demand—or whether he will heed the FBI’s concerns and object to its release. Trump was overheard at the State of the Union address last night saying he would “one hundred percent” release the memo.
According to Democrats on the House intelligence committee, Trump’s FBI director, Chris Wray, implored the panel to heed his worries about the release of counterintelligence-relevant information. The memo’s principal sponsor, Nunes, cited a murky new inquiry he has begun into the FBI and Justice Department as reason to dismiss Wray’s concerns.
Wray has thus far escaped the ire of conservative media personalities and activists, who have focused their criticism on other senior Justice Department and FBI officials named in the memo, including Rosenstein, Wray’s predecessor James Comey, and Wray’s now-former deputy, Andrew McCabe.
Many of Trump’s allies view the Nunes memo as a tool to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. So Wednesday’s FBI statement could generate friction between Wray and the White House.
Hours after the FBI statement, Nunes, who has dialed back his interactions with journalists, called the FBI objections “spurious” and self-serving.
It was Nunes’ latest escalation in an extraordinary clash between the bureau and a committee that, before Trump, often shared its prerogatives. Most recently, Nunes shepherded a surveillance bill cherished by the FBI that permits the bureau vast warrantless access to Americans’ NSA-collected communications.
He dared the bureau to make the Justice Department’s FISA application public—something officials overseeing surveillance will be extremely reluctant to do, for fear of creating blueprints for counterintelligence targets to evade eavesdropping or compromising intelligence sources.
“The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses,” Nunes said. As well, for the first time, Nunes confirmed that his still-classified memo substantially dwells on an accusation that the FBI misleadingly used ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s salacious dossier to obtain surveillance warrants.
Veterans of the FISA process say no judge would accept the Steele dossier as an exclusive or even substantial basis for surveillance, since the Justice Department would not know and could not vouch for Steele’s sources. Yet it has been reported that material from the dossier, accompanied by other evidence, had made it into the warrant application for Page.
“Regardless, it’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign,” Nunes asserted, in an echo of Trump’s claim, refuted by Comey, that the Obama administration placed the Trump campaign under surveillance.
“Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”