Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday implored Republicans not to use a GOP-crafted memo alleging “shocking” surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to undermine special counsel Bob Mueller in remarks made less than 24 hours after the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public.
Ryan during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday urged Republicans not to overstate the facts in the memo and not to tie its conclusions to Mueller’s investigation, according to a person in the room.
“First, there are legitimate questions about whether an American’s civil liberties were violated by the FISA process,” he told reporters after the meeting. “This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller’s investigation and his investigation should be allowed to take its course.”
The classified memo was drafted by staff for Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and is believed to contain allegations that federal investigators did not adequately explain to a clandestine spy court that some of the information included in a surveillance warrant application for Trump adviser Carter Page came from opposition research paid for by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Some GOP members who have seen the memo have hinted heavily that it contains the key to unraveling the entire investigation into whether President Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to swing the 2016 election—a probe Trump has repeatedly derided as a “witch hunt.”
Conservatives have called the memo’s revelations a threat to democracy and “bigger than Watergate.”
Since the classified memo was made available to the entire House last week, Democrats have blasted the document as a transparent effort by Republicans to discredit Mueller’s investigation and protect the president. They have described it as a set of misleading and unsubstantiated allegations that Republicans can’t back up without exposing highly classified information.
But there has been a mounting crescendo from the right to reveal the document. Ryan’s remarks come as their demands are poised to become reality—and questions have begun to emerge about whether the document will live up to the hype.
“To say that it’s so, ‘earth-shattering,’ as some of my colleagues have been saying—I believe, based on a number of things that I’ve seen, that there were a number of things that were done inappropriately,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told The Hill on Sunday when asked if Republicans may have overplayed the memo’s significance.
Meadows previously called the document “shocking,” saying “I thought it could never happen in a country that loves freedom and democracy like this country.”
Some Senate Republicans have also urged caution on the memo.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) over the weekend told ABC’s “This Week” that the document should not be released. “I want somebody outside of the Republican-led Congress to look at these allegations,” he said.
The fight over whether or not to release the document comes amidst an inferno of tension between the GOP and the DOJ as Mueller moves closer to interviewing the president.
On Monday, longtime GOP target Andrew McCabe abruptly stepped down from his position as deputy director at the FBI, after months of withering criticism from Trump and other Republicans.
Republican lawmakers from four separate committees for weeks have raised alarm bells about text messages between two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into Russia and Trump’s campaign, claiming that they show law enforcement bias against the president.
And a vocal set of conservatives has blasted Mueller’s investigation as hopeless biased and called for his dismissal.
“My concern is that the bias that any person could bring to any job actually seem to manifest in this case in a conspiracy to undermine the president of the United States,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told CNN on Monday.
“I think that there’s really a mosaic of evidence here, not one particular donation or one particular party affiliation that illuminates tremendous bias that should stop this probe from going forward.”
Gaetz is urging Trump to release the memo during the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
The decision to release the document now rests with Trump, who has five days to stop the publication if it so chooses. But the White House has signaled an interest in making the document public and Trump is widely expected to release it.