President Donald Trump is set to approve the release of a Republican-authored memo that is said to allege surveillance abuses by FBI officials investigating potential collusion between Trump presidential campaign officials and Russia.
An administration official told reporters that the president is expected to tell Congress “probably” on Friday that he is okay with releasing the memo, that is despite objections from his own Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The White House official said the decision was made after examining the memo over the last few days and making sure “it doesn’t give away too much in terms of classification.”
“The president is ok with it,” the official said. “I doubt there will be any redactions. It’s in Congress’ hands after that.” It would then be up to the House Intelligence Committee to make the document public.
Republicans claim the memo contains evidence of “shocking” abuses by the FBI. It reportedly shows that the bureau’s officials relied on an opposition research dossier paid for by Democrats to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance on the Trump presidential campaign.
The Democrats claim the document is an attempt to discredit the federal investigation into Russian election meddling and possible Trump campaign ties to the country. Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading that investigation.
Senior Democrats have called the memo a “cherry-picked” list of Republican talking points that also attempts distract from the House Intelligence Committee’s own investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
The FBI and its director Christopher Wray have raised issues over the memo, with the bureau issuing a rare public statement on Wednesday declaring it had “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the classified document.
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. Mr Wray is reportedly preparing a rebuttal for when the memo is released, although the White House is said to have tried to have accommodate concerns raised by the FBI in reviewing the memo.
Several national security officials are said to have warned the White House that releasing the document could jeopardise sensitive government information, including how intelligence is collected.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to release the so-called “Nunes memo”- named after committee chairman Republican Devin Nunes - giving Mr Trump five days to accept or object to the committee’s request. The President has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Mr Nunes and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, have engaged in a public battle over the memo since the chairman released it to members of the House earlier this month. Mr Schiff claims the memo sent to the White House was “materially different” than the version the committee approved.
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 Mr 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.”
On Wednesday, Mr Nunes fired back at the FBI and Justice Department for what he described as “spurious objections” to the release of the memo.
“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,” Mr Nunes said in a statement.
According to multiple news accounts, the memo says that the FBI’s 2016 application for a warrant to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, was based on information in an infamous Trump dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele.
The memo is said to assert that the FBI failed to adequately explain to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that some funding for the dossier reportedly came from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday defended the memo and Mr Nunes, asserting that the document is not an attack on the Justice Department and FBI, and does not undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
However, Senator John Thune, the number three Republican in the Senate, has urged House Republican members to slow down their push to release the document. Speaking to reporters at the Republican’s annual policy retreat in West Virginia, he said he thought the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also running a parallel investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, should be allowed to see the document first.
He also said 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 for a separate Democrat memo to be released at the same time as the Republican one, with the former document said to serve as a rebuttal against claims of abuses by the FBI.
Meanwhile, Senate and House Democratic leaders are calling for the removal of Mr Nunes as House intelligence chair over the memo, with the controversy over it showing few signs of abating.
“The decision of Chairman Nunes and House Republicans to release a bogus memo has taken the GOP’s cover-up campaign to a new, completely unacceptable extreme,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to Mr Ryan.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released his own statement, saying the memo is meant to “sow conspiracy theories and attack the integrity of federal law enforcement as a means to protect President Trump.”
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