WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump is close to making a decision on whether to release a classified Republican memo alleging misconduct by the FBI in its investigation into potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. Democrats and the Justice Department have urged him to block the document’s disclosure.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said he expected a decision to be made “pretty soon” on whether to halt the House intelligence committee from releasing the memo. The panel voted along party lines Monday to release it, and Trump now has five days to object. If he doesn’t object, then Congress can release it.
The president has read and been briefed on the memo, according to a senior administration official. The official was not authorized to be quoted about private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump is expected to approve the release of the memo as soon as Thursday.
Trump has said he wants the memo released despite the objections of the FBI and the Justice Department. The FBI declared Wednesday that it has “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the classified memo, which was written as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the early stages of the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
Senior FBI officials have also made direct appeals to the White House, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.
Democrats made a last-ditch effort Wednesday evening to stop the memo’s release, saying it had been “secretly altered” by the Republicans who wrote it. California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the Monday vote.
“The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release,” Schiff said in the letter.
Schiff asked Nunes for another vote on the memo, but Republicans didn’t appear to waver. A spokesman for Nunes said the committee vote was “procedurally sound,” and that “to suggest otherwise is a bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo, which the public will hopefully soon be able to read for themselves.”
The FBI’s stance means that Trump, by allowing the memo’s release, would be openly defying his own FBI director by continuing to push for its disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI director Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.
The FBI statement came the day after Trump was overheard by television cameras telling a congressman that he “100 percent” supported release of the four-page memo.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are pressuring Speaker Paul Ryan to stop the memo’s release, and Pelosi on Thursday called for Nunes to be removed as chairman of the intelligence panel. She says Nunes took “deliberately dishonest actions” by altering a classified GOP-written memo on the investigation into Russia’s election influence.
Democrats have called the memo a “cherry-picked” list of GOP talking points that attempts to distract from the committee’s own investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House. They have prepared their own memo in response, but Republicans voted to block its immediate public release.
The drama comes as special counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the campaign and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey. Republicans have intensified their pressure on the Justice Department as Mueller’s probe has moved closer to Trump’s inner circle.
Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the memo will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his belief that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nunes fired back at the law enforcement agencies, calling the FBI and Justice Department objections “spurious.”
The vote to release the memo was unprecedented in the committee’s history. The panel usually goes out of its way to protect classified information in the interest of shielding intelligence sources and methods.
The Justice Department had said in a letter last week that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without first giving the FBI and the department the chance to review it.