FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The FBI came close to publicly opposing the memo’s release, saying in a statement Wednesday that it has “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
But House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes called the objections from the FBI and the Justice Department “spurious” and criticized officials for “stonewalling” the panel.
“It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign,” the California Republican said Wednesday in a statement. “Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
The spat comes amid a new report from CNN that President Donald Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in December for an update on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and whether Rosenstein was “on my team.” Rosenstein oversees Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The memo on actions early in the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign is being reviewed by “our national security lawyers in the White House,” who are “slicing and dicing it,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said Wednesday on Fox News Radio. But he left little doubt about the outcome, saying the disputed memo will be released “pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.”
The White House has up to five days to decide whether the memo can be released — and whether portions should be withheld — after the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to make it public. The decision on releasing the memo won’t come before Thursday, according to an administration official.
The memo, written by aides under direction of Nunes, is aimed at raising questions about the validity of the Russia investigation now led by Mueller.
The FBI isn’t included in the inter-agency review process led by the White House aimed at deciding whether — and how much of — the memo can be made public. Wray was allowed to read the memo on Sunday.
As Trump departed the House floor after delivering his State of the Union address, C-SPAN cameras captured Representative Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, asking the president to “release the memo.”
“Oh yeah, don’t worry, 100 percent,” Trump replied, waving dismissively. “Can you imagine that? You’d be too angry.”
Release of the memo has been opposed by Democrats, who argue it gives an inaccurate portrayal of appropriate actions undertaken by law enforcement, and by the Justice Department, which has said it should remain classified.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on House Intelligence, wrote Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed that the push to release the memo “increases the risk of a constitutional crisis by setting the stage for subsequent actions by the White House to fire Mueller or, as now seems more likely, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, an act that would echo the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre.”
The memo has become a cause for conservative congressional Republicans, who say the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department pursued the probe of possible Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign under false pretenses.
Three House lawmakers who have read the document said it claims that FBI officials didn’t provide all the relevant facts in requests made to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain a warrant or warrants on Carter Page, a Trump campaign associate and former investment banker in Moscow.
The three lawmakers said the memo contends a judge might not have approved the request for surveillance of Page if the FBI had revealed that Trump’s campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, and Democrats helped fund research by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, that produced a dossier of unverified allegations against Trump that was used in seeking the warrant.
In its statement Wednesday, the FBI said it “takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI.”
The debate comes as the FBI is going through its own transition. On Monday, one day after he read the memo, Wray summoned FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to his office for a meeting, the person familiar with the matter said. After the two talked, McCabe submitted his resignation and went on leave until his retirement takes effect in spring, most likely March.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the memo alleges about McCabe, whose actions have also been under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
In a message to the bureau on Monday, Wray said he respects the inspector general’s process, but said he wouldn’t discuss it, the person said. Wray didn’t indicate in the message any wrongdoing by McCabe. But the director said he won’t be persuaded by political pressure and he’s going to do his job by the book, the person said.
With McCabe stepping down, David Bowdich has become acting FBI deputy director. Bowdich is a career professional who rose to become an associate deputy director.
Wray is expected to interview other candidates for the job before making a final decision for deputy director, the person said.