ROUND TWO

Your Move, Trump: House Intel OKs Release of Dems’ Memo

Last week, Republicans voted to keep secret a rebuttal to Devin Nunes’ controversial surveillance memo. On Monday, the GOP reps changed course—despite Trump’s tweeted taunts.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

#ReleaseTheMemo is set to happen again.

Just days after releasing a memo sowing doubt about the integrity of those investigating ties between President Trump and Russia, the House intelligence committee agreed to declassify a Democratic rebuttal.

The original memo—penned by the staff of chairman Devin Nunes and released after fierce objections from both the Justice Department and the FBI—was immediately championed by Trump as a vindication.

But the top Democratic on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff, claimed after prevailing in a unanimous committee vote on Monday that his document would reveal “many distortions and inaccuracies in the [Republican] memo.”

The vote came hours after Trump taunted Schiff on Twitter. And it was an abrupt reversal for the committee Republicans, all of whom voted against releasing the Democratic document last week—something their Democratic colleagues said was a political stunt to ensure the pro-Trump narrative laid out in the Nunes memo had days to circulate unrebutted. Schiff said Monday night that the Republicans’ transparency rhetoric placed them in an “unsupportable position” to reject the Democratic memo.

Much as with last week’s disclosure of Nunes’ memo, Trump now has five days to object to the release of the Democratic counter-memo. Should he, the full House can vote to override Trump and release it. Asked ahead of the Monday committee vote if the FBI had reservations about the release of the Democratic memo, the bureau declined comment.

Nunes dodged a question last week from a Democratic colleague as to whether the White House aided in his memo’s creation. He reportedly did the same thing in Monday afternoon’s committee hearing.

Nunes’ four-page document, released on Friday after a weeks-long hasthtag campaign, claimed that senior Justice Department and FBI officials manipulated a process for securing court-authorized surveillance against Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser Carter Page. It confirmed that Page had indeed been the subject of foreign-agent surveillance, something intelligence agencies and their oversight committees are typically loath to discuss. Nunes’ memo insinuated that ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier of accusations against Trump aides was the genesis of the Russia investigation that ex-FBI director James Comey has testified began in July 2016.

Yet the memo conceded that the surveillance request for Page came later, on October 21, 2016. On its final page, it acknowledged that the “opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation” for the Trump had nothing to do with either Page or Steele, but rather thanks to information concerning a different campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, who is now cooperating with special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Nunes even subsequently conceded that a “footnote” in the surveillance application for Page indicated that financing for the Steele dossier came from a political entity— – undermining another central aspect of the memo’s allegations of FBI and Justice Department misconduct.

Once Nunes rejected FBI entreaties to provide additional context, the FBI attacked the memo publicly, saying last Wednesday that Nunes’ narrative contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” The Justice Department called its release “extraordinarily reckless” and said it was “unaware of any wrongdoing” over the Page surveillance. Nunes subsequently admitted he did not read the surveillance application that his memo purported to summarize.

The president, for his part, claimed the Nunes memo “totally vindicates” him, despite its inability to show the centrality of the Steele dossier for a surveillance warrant on Page – which, in any event, was not the genesis of the FBI investigation into collusion; the Papadopolous information was. Thus far, Trump has not acted on his feelings of vindication and fired deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, a prelude to firing or constraining Mueller.

As Republican momentum to release Nunes’ memo intensified, Democrats on the intelligence committee wrote a rebuttal. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the committee, said on January 24 that the Democratic counter-memo would set “out the relevant facts and exposing the misleading character of the Republicans’ document so that members of the House are not left with an erroneous impression of the dedicated professionals at the FBI” and” the Justice Department.

Will Hurd, a Texas Republican on the intelligence committee who joined in the push to release the Nunes memo, stated in a Washington Post op-ed that the Democratic memo “included many references that would affect existing intelligence activity.” Through his office, Hurd, a former CIA officer, declined to elaborate, as did numerous Democratic offices contacted for comment. Schiff pledged last week that ahead of any publication of his own memo, “our intention” was to “make our memoranda, at least, available to the Department of Justice and the FBI, subject to their input and redaction before being made public.”  

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On Monday night, Schiff reiterated that, and said the FBI and Justice Department had for “days” had the Democratic memo.

Trump has claimed the Nunes memo “totally vindicates” him, despite its inability to show the centrality of the Steele dossier for a surveillance warrant on Page—which, in any event, was not the genesis of the FBI investigation into collusion; the Papadopolous information was. Thus far, Trump has not acted on his feelings of vindication and fired deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, a prelude to firing or constraining Mueller.

His White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has portrayed the White House’s motivations as emerging from simply wanting the truth to come out: “We've said all along from day one that we want full transparency in this process.” Her deputy on Monday stopped short of expressing White House support for releasing the Democratic memo. According to Schiff, the White House will receive his memo Monday night.

During the intelligence committee’s closed hearing last week, an ally of Nunes, Republican Peter King of New York, made a similar argument. “There are moments in our history when full transparency is required so that all Americans can understand what their government has done,” King said on January 29. Later in that hearing, King, like all his GOP colleagues, voted against releasing the Democratic memo.

‘There are moments in our history when full transparency is required,’ the Republican congressman said, just before he voted against releasing the Democratic memo.

All that  provided grist last week for Democrats to ready hypocrisy charges concerning their countermemo. “If President Trump and Congressman Nunes were interested in a full, accurate accounting of why this investigation was launched, they would release Congressman Schiff’s response.” Senator Jack Reed said in a Friday statement. Schiff last week shot back at King behind closed committee doors: “If it is Mr. King’s position that full transparency is required, certainly full transparency means full transparency, and that would include the minority views as well as the majority views.”

Hours before the Monday committee vote, Trump lashed out at “Little Adam Schiff” as “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington” who “must be stopped!”

He subsequently called Nunes “a man of tremendous courage and grit [who] may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero.” Nunes, who has blocked and tackled for Trump from his committee perch for the past year, had previously played a leading role on Trump’s presidential transition team. Nunes dodged a question last week from a Democratic colleague as to whether the White House aided in his memo’s creation.

Schiff said Nunes did the same thing in Monday afternoon’s committee hearing, ultimately reading out what Schiff called a “lawyerly” prepared statement claiming only that the White House was uninvolved in the drafting of the memo.

“This just looks too much like a rerun of that charade at the beginning of the investigation,” Schiff said.

While the committee Democrats solicited “feedback” from the Justice Department and FBI as to what ought to remain withheld in their memo, Schiff said, the Democrats were concerned Trump would selectively censor its contents in accordance with Trump’s interests.

“We want to make sure the White House does not redact our memo for political purposes and that was a deep concern,” Schiff said.