President Trump on Jan. 30 told Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) that he will “100 percent” release a memo alleging abuse by the FBI. (The Washington Post)
The White House is broadcasting mixed messages as aides attempt to qualify President Trump’s Tuesday night statement that he would “100 percent” authorize the public release of a GOP memo of alleged surveillance abuses at the FBI and Department of Justice.
“There are no current plans to release the House Intelligence Committee’s memo,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on CNN Wednesday morning, noting that Trump had not “seen or been briefed” on the memo’s contents before he made those comments Tuesday night.
But later Wednesday morning, White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly told Fox News radio that the memo will “be released here pretty quick,” just as soon as the White House’s national security lawyers finish “slicing and dicing and looking at it so that we know what it means.”
On Tuesday night, Trump promised to publicize the memo in comments to Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), who asked the president to “release the memo” as Trump was exiting the House chamber following his first State of the Union address.
“Oh yeah, oh, don’t worry,” Trump told him. “100 percent.”
The exchange was caught by television cameras filming his departure. A White House spokesman confirmed soon after that the president intended to release the memo.
The comments appeared to jump ahead of plans to assure critics that the White House is putting the memo through a formal vetting process before the president makes a decision. They are also the latest sign that Trump is out of step with parts of his administration when it comes to whether, or how, the memo ought to be made public.
Sanders also insisted that the White house planned to “complete the legal and national security review that has to take place” before deciding whether the memo should be released.
“There’s always a chance” the memo won’t be released, Sanders said. “No one here is going to make a decision that jeopardizes national security.”
But since the memo issue emerged, Trump has been at odds with top federal law enforcement officials about whether it should be made public.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to make the four-page document available to the public, something that will happen if Trump does not act to block its release within five days. Just before the vote, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who viewed the memo over the weekend, and deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, made a last-ditch plea to White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly not to approve the House panel’s action, explaining that it could compromise intelligence gathering and set a dangerous precedent.
After the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a classified memo, Republicans lauded the step while Democrats criticized it as a political deception. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
It was not the first time that Justice Department officials had warned that releasing the memo could compromise intelligence gathering sources and methods, and threaten national security. But at the White House, Trump made his desire to release the memo clear despite those warnings, prompting Kelly to apprise Attorney General Jeff Sessions of the president’s plans.
Conservative Republican members of Congress were sure days before that Trump would be on board with their campaign to publicize it. The push began shortly after the House Intelligence panel voted on the morning of Jan. 18 to make the memo available to members to read in a secure facility; that afternoon, leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus took a phone call from Trump in which they told him of the memo and their plans. Caucus members told of the conversation immediately afterward came away with the impression “that he would want it released . . . since it helps the president so much,” as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) put it.
The memo was written by staffers for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) earlier this month, after the panel procured from the FBI and Justice Department long sought-after documents related to a now-famous dossier of allegations concerning Trump and his purported ties to Kremlin officials. Sanders told CNN Wednesday that Trump was “not aware of any conversation or coordination” between Nunes and the White House on the production or release of the memo, but didn’t rule out the possibility entirely, saying: “I just don’t know the answer.”
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The memo alleges that the British ex-spy who wrote the memo, Christopher Steele, passed bad information to the FBI — though people familiar with the document said it does not determine whether he did so intentionally or by mistake. The memo alleges that information formed the basis for an application to conduct surveillance against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Republicans have long been suspicious of the dossier, particularly since learning that Steele’s work was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Democrats, however, allege that the GOP memo is nothing but a hit job designed to weaken the federal law enforcement agencies behind special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including Trump’s alleged ties to Russian officials. They have prepared a memo countering the allegations in the GOP memo written by Nunes’s staff, but the Democrats’ document is only available to members to read in a secure facility.
John Wagner contributed to this report.