WASHINGTON ― The FBI has “grave concerns” about a secretive Republican-authored memo that members of Congress have been using to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference with the 2016 election.
In an extraordinary public statement on Wednesday, the bureau said the classified four-page memo authored by Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee had “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
In a party-line vote, the House Intelligence Committee used a rarely invoked procedure to approve the release of the memo, which is based on classified documents the Justice Department provided to the committee. The memo reportedly alleges that the Justice Department and the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on Carter Page, who was associated with the Trump campaign, ahead of the 2016 election.
Actual FISA experts have treated that claim with extreme skepticism.
President Donald Trump has indicated he supports the memo being made public, telling a House Republican after the State of the Union address that he would “100 percent” release it. Trump’s statement was at odds with the position of his own White House, which had insisted an actual review process was in place.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday urged his colleagues not to use the memo to undermine the Mueller probe, calling it “a completely separate matter.” His statement was a bit late ― Republicans and Fox News anchors had been using the mysterious memo to suggest it was time to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has oversight of the special counsel investigation.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and the man chiefly responsible for the memo, issued a statement on Wednesday saying DOJ and the FBI “stonewalled” Congress for nearly a year and that they issued “spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses.”
“The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses,” said Nunes, a member of Trump’s transition team. “Regardless, it’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign. Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
Asked if the Justice Department backed the FBI’s position, a department spokesperson noted that the FBI is part of DOJ, and did not immediately respond to a follow-up question. A spokesperson for Mueller’s office declined to comment.
Republican attacks on the FBI appear to have had a detrimental impact on the public’s trust in the bureau. The percentage of Republicans who said they had at least a fair amount of trust in the FBI dropped 22 points from 2015 to 2018, according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll. The percentage of independents who had at least a fair amount of trust dropped 15 points over that timeframe, while Democrats’ trust of the bureau remained roughly level.
Here’s the FBI’s full statement:
The FBI 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. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.
With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.
This article has been updated with comment from Nunes, a response from Mueller’s office, and information from the HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at email@example.com or on Signal at 202-527-9261.