President Trump is expected to approve the release of a controversial congressional memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI, and House Republicans are likely to make it public on Friday, according to senior administration officials.
The memo, which has created a political firestorm, suggests that the origins of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election were tainted by political bias. It alleges that the FBI, when obtaining a surveillance warrant, relied in some part on a dossier of allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump that was underwritten by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Trump has read the GOP memo, the administration officials said, and once he formally approves its release, the White House will transmit it back to the House Intelligence Committee, which has the authority to make it public.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed “grave concerns” about the memo’s release, saying it contains classified information and inaccuracies. Early Thursday, a senior White House official said the administration was likely to make redactions in response to those concerns.
Hours later, however, the White House appeared to change course, saying the memo was likely to be released without redactions.
On Wednesday, the FBI issued a rare, unsigned statement citing its concerns. The bureau said Thursday its position had not changed. But officials there do not think the memo’s disclosure will lead to a direct confrontation between Trump and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, according to current and former law enforcement officials. The current and former officials noted that the bureau’s statement specifically excluded the director’s name as a way of signaling that he does not intend to stake his job on the issue.
Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, issued a statement Thursday supporting Wray. It says the group appreciates his “standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the FBI as we work together to protect our country from criminal and national security threats.’’
Among current and former law enforcement officials, however, there is concern about the future of Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation led by Mueller. Rosenstein is named in the Republican memo, according to people familiar with it, because he approved a request early last year to reauthorize surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser.
The president has expressed a desire to get rid of Rosenstein, which would allow him to appoint a new official to oversee Mueller, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The president has also told advisers that he thinks the memo is “gaining traction” and could help him convince the public that the Mueller probe is a witch hunt, the people familiar with the matter said.
The four-page memo was written by Republican staffers of the House Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). It alleges that the British former spy who wrote the dossier, which claims that Trump has ties to the Kremlin, passed bad information to the FBI and suggests that that information was used in the application to conduct surveillance on the former campaign adviser, Carter Page, according to people familiar with the document.
As lawmakers await the memo’s release, congressional leaders are intensifying their partisan fight over its publication. The top two Democrats in Congress called on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday to remove Nunes as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes had turned the panel’s proceedings into a “charade” and a “coverup campaign . . . to hide the truth about the Trump-Russia scandal,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) wrote in a letter to Ryan.
Ryan defended Nunes, accusing Democrats of trying to “sidetrack us with some political game” and stressing that the memo’s scrutiny of the FBI “does not implicate” Mueller or Rosenstein.
If federal agents “brought bias or cut corners or did something wrong,” the public needs to know, Ryan said, citing concerns about the Justice Department’s “violating American civil liberties.”
“I say let all of it out, so long as we’re not involving sources and methods,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), appearing with Ryan, also told reporters he thinks Nunes is “handling this just right.”
But not all Republicans agree.
John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, said Thursday that the memo should not be made public until the Senate Intelligence Committee is able to review it.
“I think they have to take into consideration what the FBI is saying,” Thune said. “They need to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about how this bears on our national security.”
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats also met with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly this week and expressed frustration with the process undertaken by House Intelligence Committee Republicans, one U.S. official said.
Former FBI director James B. Comey, who was fired by Trump, tweeted Thursday evening about the FBI statement: “All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.”
Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday night to make the memo public, Nunes rejected Democrats’ pleas to have FBI and Justice Department officials brief House members about their concerns with the memo, arguing that both entities had “been under investigation by this committee for many, many months, for FISA abuse and other matters.”
The comments by Nunes, according to a newly released transcript of the meeting, surprised Democrats, who accused him of coordinating the memo’s release with the White House. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) governs the secret court that reviews and sanctions surveillance requests from the Justice Department.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), has also accused Nunes of making “material changes” to the document that Republican members voted to make public before passing it on to the White House for Trump’s review.
Schiff thinks those changes are significant enough to render the process by which Trump could allow the release of the memo null and void. Nunes disagreed, and his staff described any changes as minor edits or alternations requested by the FBI and Democrats.
John Wagner, Jenna Johnson, Devlin Barrett and Erica Werner contributed to this report.