House Intelligence Committee releases controversial Nunes memo after Trump authorizes its declassification

World
By Business Insider
Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a highly controversial memo authored by chairman Devin Nunes after President Donald Trump authorized its declassification.

The memo claims, among other things, that several top officials at the Justice Department and the FBI acted improperly when they signed off on applications seeking extended surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

"The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America’s democracy," Page said in a statement to Business Insider. "Now that a few of the misdeeds against the Trump Movement have been partially revealed, I look forward to updating my pending legal action in opposition to DOJ this weekend in preparation for Monday’s next small step on the long, potholed road toward helping to restore law and order in our great country."

Nunes' memo also raises several questions about the Steele dossier, an explosive collection of memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, which details Trump's and his associates' alleged ties to Russia.

The dossier was initially funded by anti-Trump Republicans. Democrats took over funding after Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016. The Washington Post reported last year that Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired the Perkins Coie law firm, which in turn retained the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS to fund production of the dossier.

"President Trump has approved the declassification of the document in full, and it has been transmitted to the minority and majority of the House Intel Committee," Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said, adding that the White House did not request any redactions to the memo.

Addressing the memo's release on Friday, Trump said, "A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves."

"I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country," he said, adding that the memo had been sent to the committee.

Republicans are likely to use the memo to contend that deputy US attorney general Rod Rosenstein — shortly after taking office last spring — acted improperly in approving an application to extend counterintelligence surveillance of Page that was partly based on dubious research funded by Democratic organizations, The New York Times reported last weekend.

Asked on Friday whether the memo affected his confidence in Rosenstein or increased the likelihood that he would oust him, Trump replied, "You figure that one out."

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 US election and whether members of Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favor. Mueller is also examining whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired James Comey as FBI director in May.

If Trump were to fire Rosenstein, Rachel Brand, the associate attorney general, would assume oversight of the Russia investigation.

Extraordinarily reckless'

The so-called Nunes memo and its release have sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill and within the intelligence community.

Republicans said they wanted to release the document to promote transparency and hold law enforcement accountable, but Democrats characterized it as a thinly veiled attempt to distract the public and discredit the agencies investigating the president and his associates.

Top officials in intelligence and law enforcement had cautioned against the memo's release.

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Rosenstein met on Monday with the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, to argue against releasing the memo, saying the document contained several inaccuracies and that releasing it could expose sources and methods, The Washington Post reported earlier Friday.

When Kelly didn't budge, Wray again called him on Monday night but was unsuccessful, The Post said, citing administration officials.

The next day, at least five FBI officials traveled to the White House to speak with Kelly about the memo, the report said. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, had also cautioned the chief of staff against releasing the document.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, had said it would be "extraordinarily reckless" for the House Intelligence Committee to approve the memo's release without giving the department enough time to review it and advise lawmakers about national-security implications.

The FBI also weighed in, saying in a rare statement on Wednesday that it had been "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 statement said.

Democrats said they had prepared a document to rebut many of the claims in the memo, but Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee had not approved its release.