Last week, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to make public a GOP-drafted memo that contained allegations the FBI abused its power to spy on the Trump campaign. But on Monday, the same Republican-led committee voted to release a Democrat-authored memo that counters those claims — putting pressure on President Donald Trump to make it public.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s top Democrat, has been the biggest critic of his counterpart Rep. Devin Nunes’s (R-CA) memo, which was released last Friday. That memo alleged, among other things, that the FBI misled a federal judge during its investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
House Republicans and conservative media cast it as proof of Trump’s long-running narrative of FBI bias against him; Democrats say it’s deeply misleading, twisting and cherry-picking classified intelligence to make the president seem right. Schiff compiled his objections to the Nunes memo into his own memo — a 10-page document that is reportedly a detailed rebuttal to his colleague’s claims.
In an interview, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), a committee member, said he thinks the Schiff memo will help rebut a potentially orchestrated Republican campaign. “It is quite possible that there’s been coordination between the Republican majority, perhaps the chairman [Nunes], the president, and the White House on releasing the Nunes memo,” he said. “I think Chairman Nunes takes his marching orders from Donald Trump.” Nunes and the White House deny collaborating on drafting the Republican memo.
The committee’s unanimous vote means that Trump now has five days to decide whether or not to publicly release the document or keep it private. (If Trump wants to keep it private, Democrats could opt for a closed-door House vote to override the president.)
That’s awkward for Trump. If he makes the Schiff memo public, the president opens himself and Republicans up to criticism that the Nunes memo purposefully left out information to insinuate the FBI is biased against Trump. But if Trump keeps the memo private, he may receive harsh rebukes for burying a potentially damaging document.
The prospect of that dilemma may have led Trump to tweet his frustration with Schiff on Monday morning.
Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper! Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2018
Schiff responded just over an hour later, asking the president to focus on his work instead of “tweeting false smears”:
Mr. President, I see you’ve had a busy morning of “Executive Time.” Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or...really anything else. https://t.co/lVqQRu2Gjl— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 5, 2018
That we’re even at this point is quite stunning. Just seven days ago, Republicans on the committee voted not to release Schiff’s memo in a party-line vote. But over the weekend at least three Republicans on the committee signaled their intentions to send the memo to Trump’s desk.
“Rep. [Trey] Gowdy supports the exact same process for the minority memo as he did the majority memo,” Gowdy’s spokesperson, Amanda Gonzalez, told CNN. Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Mike Turner (R-OH) also sided with Gowdy before Monday’s vote.
The Republican turnaround is even more surprising when you remember the GOP is in the middle of a campaign to discredit, or even end, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It may not really be in Trump’s interest to release Schiff’s memo
Page went to Moscow in July 2016 while he was serving on the Trump campaign, a move that raised eyebrows among the FBI agents investigating the Trump team’s ties to Russia. So the FBI and Department of Justice put together an application to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court — a court that approves surveillance warrants pertaining to national security and foreign intelligence — to start watching Page. The court granted the application in the fall of 2016, giving the FBI the green light.
Nunes’s memo claims that this surveillance was not properly vetted by the court; specifically, that it relied on the now-infamous Steele dossier, the document prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele alleging the existence of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russian government. The dossier, partially and indirectly funded by the Clinton campaign, is the report claiming, among other things, the existence of the so-called “pee tape.”
But Schiff, in the memo, reportedly defends the FBI’s FISA application on Page and says that there was no deception surrounding the dossier. The memo also, per CNN, attacks Nunes’s political motivations — arguing that the entire thing is a sham designed to aid Trump’s attack on the FBI.
Left unchecked, the Trump and Nunes-led assault on law enforcement could lay the groundwork for the president to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That’d be big: Rosenstein is the only one with the ability to fire Mueller or approve his investigation requests. If Rosenstein goes, Trump could replace him with someone either willing to remove the special counsel or simply decline to let the probe move forward.
Those outcomes, in part, are probably what Schiff aims to avoid with his memo. The memo sees the light of day if Trump makes it public in the coming days — but that doesn’t seem very likely as of now.