Washington is abuzz over a secret memo that House Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican from Tulare, has been pushing to release. The memo reportedly alleges senior FBI and Justice Department officials relied on questionable and politically motivated sources to justify surveillance of President Trump’s campaign.
In a highly unusual move Monday, the committee voted to declassify the memo, meaning the public could soon get a look at it.
Here are six things to know about the controversial memo:
What the memo reveals, as far as we know
The four-page document alleges FBI and Justice Department officials abused their power under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. According to multiple news accounts, it alleges the FBI's 2016 application for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page was based on information in the infamous Trump dossier.
That dossier of allegations on Trump’s connections to Russia was completed for the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Trump has furiously denied many of the allegations, some of which have not been verified.
To obtain a surveillance warrant for a U.S. citizen like Page, the government would have had to show probable cause that Page was an agent of the Russian government. The FBI has said the warrant application was based on a variety of sources. Page, a former Moscow-based investment banker, was a foreign policy advisor to Trump’s campaign.
Nunes spent months on the memo
Nunes, who was a member of Trump’s transition team, stepped away from the House Russia investigation last spring because of an ethics investigation into whether he had inadvertently released classified information after he rushed to tell the White House about FISA wiretapping he learned about as a part of the investigation. Nunes came under intense criticism and subsequently admitted he had received the information at the White House, saying that it was the only safe place to look at the classified material.
But when the House Ethics Committee cleared Nunes in early December, he didn’t officially retake control of the investigation and hasn’t explained why he compiled the memo.
Such memos aren’t all that unusual in Congress. But it’s unusual to craft a memo that relies on classified information and then try to make it public.
The Justice Department doesn’t want it released, but Trump might do it anyway
The House Intelligence Committee’s vote Monday overrode the Justice Department’s opposition to the memo’s release. In a letter to the committee, the department said that it would be “extremely reckless” to release the memo before it has been officially reviewed.
Fox News reported that FBI Director Christopher Wray traveled to the Capitol last weekend to view the document for the first time, but he has made no public comments about it.
Trump has five days after Monday’s vote to block the memo’s release for national security reasons. The Washington Post reported that he has indicated he would release the memo over the Justice Department’s objections.
Republicans aren’t united on what to do
Some conservatives and Russian troll accounts have used the hashtag #releasethememo to push for the its release and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he has read the memo and “it would be appropriate that the public has full view.”
As of last week, Nunes had refused to share the document with fellow Republican Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Some Senate Republicans have said they are wary of releasing a document with classified information before it has been reviewed by the intelligence community.
Democrats say the memo doesn’t show the whole picture
Democrats say the memo cherry-picks facts and tries to create a narrative to show the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has been biased since the start.
One committee Democrat, Rep. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough, called it a "pack of lies." Another, Rep. Eric Swalwell of Dublin, called it a “perversion of the facts.”
The ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, said last week that Democrats would push to release their own memo if the committee releases the Nunes memo. The contents of that memo have not been made public, and the Republican-controlled committee blocked Democrats’ attempt to release it Monday.
“We have crossed a deeply regrettable line,” Schiff said following Monday’s vote.
Nunes is getting pushback at home
The editorial board of the Fresno Bee lambasted Nunes over the weekend for his focus on the memo, saying the eight-term congressman is doing the president’s dirty work.
“What, pray tell, does Rep. Devin Nunes think he’s doing by waving around a secret memo attacking the FBI, the nation’s premier law enforcement agency?” the editorial states. “He certainly isn’t representing his Central Valley constituents or Californians, who care much more about health care, jobs and, yes, protecting Dreamers than about the latest conspiracy theory.”
Nunes’ 22nd District is on Democrats’ target list for this year’s midterms because of last spring’s ethics episode. But his opponents face an uphill fight to take out a strong fundraiser who won in 2016 with 67.57% of the vote.