A senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has accused the committee chairman of “secretly altering” a classified memo on FBI operations before sending it to the White House for review, in the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter battle over the controversial document.
Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff claims the memo sent to the White House was “materially different” than the version his committee approved for release in a party-line vote on Monday. The vote gave President Donald Trump five days to approve the memo’s dispersal to the general public. White House officials are briefing that the release could come as early as Thursday.
Republicans claim the memo contains evidence of “shocking” abuses by the FBI in relying on an opposition research dossier paid for by Democrats to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance on the Trump presidential campaign. Mr Schiff claims the document is an attempt to discredit the Department of Justice and its investigation, lead by special counsel Robert Mueller, into Russian election meddling and possible Trump campaign ties to the country.
Mr Schiff said Democrats were only “belatedly” given a chance to review the version sent to the White House, and that the minority was “never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved [of],” the changes therein.
"It is now imperative that the Committee Majority immediately withdraw the document that it sent to the White House," Mr Schiff wrote in a letter to chairman Devin Nunes. "If the Majority remains intent on releasing its document to the public, despite repeated warnings from DOJ and the FBI, it must hold a new vote to release to the public its modified document."
A spokesperson for Mr Nunes called the allegations an "increasingly strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo," and claimed the changes made were minor edits, such as grammatical fixes and changes requested by the FBI.
"The vote to release the memo was absolutely procedurally sound, and in accordance with House and Committee rules," spokesman Jack Langer told CNN. "To suggest otherwise is a bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo, which the public will hopefully soon be able to read for themselves."
Mr Trump is widely expected to approve the memo’s release, after being overheard telling a Republican Representative on Tuesday that he would “100 per cent” do so. Mr Trump is also said to have told those around him in recent days that the memo could help discredit the federal Russia investigation by exposing bias within the agency, according to CNN.
In a rare public statement, the FBI declared on Wednesday it has “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the classified memo.
The FBI's short and sharp statement, its first on the issue, laid bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out mostly behind closed doors in meetings between top Justice Department and White House officials.
“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy,” the FBI statement read.
Democrats have called the memo a “cherry-picked” list of Republican talking points that attempts to also distract from the House Intelligence Committee's own investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Mr Schiff and Mr Nunes have engaged in a public battle over the memo since the chairman released it to members of the House earlier this month.
However, Senator John Thune, the number three Republican in the Senate, has urged House GOP members to slow down their push to release of the document. Speaking to reporters from the Republican's annual policy retreat in West Virginia, he said that he thought the Senate Intelligence Committee, who are also running an investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, should be allowed to see the document first.
He also said that House Republicans should carefully consider the warning from the FBI. “They need to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about what this, you know, how this bears on our national security,” Mr Thune said.
The South Dakota senator also called the release of a separate Democrat memo at the same time as the Republican one, which is said to serve as a rebuttal against claims of abuses by the FBI.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said on Wednesday that White House lawyers were reviewing the Republican memo. "It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it," he told Fox News Radio.
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