In a rare public statement on Wednesday, the FBI said it has “grave concerns” about a Republican-crafted memo alleging corrosive abuse of United States surveillance powers by the Justice Department that is expected to be released in the coming days.
“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,” the bureau said.
“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Intelligence committee Republicans, led by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), voted to release the document over the strident objections of committee Democrats, who say it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
The decision to release the document now rests with President Trump, who has five days to decide whether or not to allow its publication. He is widely expected to overrule the concerns of senior Justice Department officials who have been lobbying him to keep it under wraps.
Caught on a hot mic on Tuesday night, Trump promised Rep. Jeff Duncan(R-S.C.) that he would “100 percent” release the memo. The White House has insisted the document will go through a normal multi-agency review process to ensure its release will not jeopardize national security.
Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly on Wednesday indicated the White House plans to release the memo soon.
“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said during an interview on Fox News Radio. “This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds.”
Wednesday’s unusual statement from the FBI — one of the most media-averse institutions in Washington — is just the latest sign that the Nunes memo has inflamed tensions between Trump and his own Justice Department.
Senior Justice Department officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, warned Kelly against making the document public in a last-ditch effort just before the Intelligence Committee vote to declassify it, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd — a Trump appointee — had also warned Nunes prior to the vote that releasing the memo publicly without allowing the FBI to weigh in would be “extraordinarily reckless” and endanger national security.
Typically, when classified information is made public, the agencies with a stake in the information weigh in to ensure that its release won’t lay bare sensitive intelligence sources and capabilities.
But although Wray was reportedly allowed to view the document in the committee’s secure spaces prior to the vote, the Justice Department has largely been cut of the committee’s efforts to make the document public.
“Well, yeah, they’re the ones that had the problem,” Rep. Mike Conaway(R-Texas) said last week when asked why the FBI had been initially blocked from viewing the document.
The precise contents of the memo are not publicly known, but it is believed to contain allegations that the FBI did not adequately explain to a clandestine court that some of the information it used in a surveillance warrant application for Trump adviser Carter Page was opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign, now known as the “Steele dossier.”
“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,” the bureau said in its statement.
“We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”
Trump, deeply frustrated by the federal investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, has previously tweeted that the FBI’s reputation is “in tatters.”
He has called for the removal of senior FBI officials he views as biased against him, one of whom— former deputy director Andrew McCabe — stepped down this week. McCabe’s early departure came amid reports that suggested he is named in both the Nunes memo and in an ongoing inspector general investigation into the bureau’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
House conservatives who have seen the Nunes memo have described it as “worse that Watergate,” hinting that it could put an end to the Mueller probe long derided by a vocal sect of GOP members as biased.
Democrats have crafted their own document rebutting the Republican memo, but Intelligence Committee Republicans voted down their request to make it public earlier this week. They say the Democratic memo should go through the same steps as the Nunes document, which the full House had a chance to review.