With Democrats crying foul, President Trump approved the release of a controversial classified memo produced by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that is said to present evidence that the FBI used the widely discredited, anti-Trump “dossier” funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to obtain legal authority to carry out surveillance on the Trump campaign.
The president was presented with the option of blocking the release of the four-page on national security grounds after a vote along partisan lines Monday by the intel panel. The document is said to allege what some GOP lawmakers are calling abuses “worse than Watergate” of government surveillance programs during the 2016 presidential campaign.
A senior administration official told reporters Thursday the president has read the memo, and it will be handed back to the committee for release.
“The president is OK with it,” the official said, according to NPR. “I doubt there will be any redactions. It’s in Congress’ hands after that.”
Spearheaded by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the memo is said to include text messages from FBI agent Peter Strzok – the agent who led the probe of Hillary Clinton’s server and was fired from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe for anti-Trump bias – that indicate the so-called “Steele dossier” was used to obtain FISA warrants to spy on Trump campaign officials.
The top Democrat on the House intel panel, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has called the Republican report “misleading and inaccurate,” and Wednesday night he claimed edits were made to the document since it was approved for release by the committee.
Schiff tweeted Wednesday night: “Discovered late tonight that Chairman Nunes made material changes to the memo he sent to White House – changes not approved by the Committee. White House therefore reviewing a document the Committee has not approved for release.”
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Republicans claim the Democrats were aware of the changes. They say some edits were requested by Democrats for clarity, the FBI asked for some for security reasons, and there were minor grammatical corrections.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a member of the intel committee, argued in an interview Thursday with Fox News that it’s standard procedure to make “technical” changes after a committee approves the release of a classified document.
Only three or four words were changed, at the request of the FBI, the congressman said.
“It doesn’t affect the substance or the spirit of the memo,” King said, emphasizing it’s “vita and essential for the American public to see” the memo.
Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter Thursday to Speaker Paul Ryan demanding he remove Nunes as chairman.
“Chairman Nunes’ deliberately dishonest actions make him unfit to serve as Chairman, and he must be immediately removed from this position,” Pelosi wrote.
The FBI issued a statement this week that after its initial review of the memo, it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
However, two senior FBI officials who reviewed the document “could not point to any factual inaccuracies,” according to the Fox News Channel’s Catherine Herridge, citing a source close to the matter.
One of the officials was from the FBI’s counter-intelligence division and the other from the legal division.
Fox News further reported, according to sources, the edited version was shown to five FBI officials at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, and they were satisfied that their concerns were addressed.
Nunes reacted to the complaints in a statement Wednesday.
“Having stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year, it’s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies,” he said.
Asked Thursday at the Republicans retreat in West Virginia about the imminent release of the memo, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the document is not an indictment of the FBI, the Department of Justice or the Mueller investigation.
He said it’s about “the Congress’ legitimate function of oversight to make sure the FISA process is being used correctly.”
Asked about the objections of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was appointed by Trump, to the release of the memo, Ryan emphasized the power the secret FISA court has over citizens’ civil liberties.
“If there are institutions or individuals who have abused that power, it is our job in Congress to shed light on that and bring transparency to the process,” he said, noting the “vast majority” of FBI employees are “doing a great job.”
“It’s very important that we guard citizens’ civil liberties,” he said.