House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes had his staffers draft a four-page memo alleging anti-Trump bias at the FBI and Justice Department, led Republican complaints about his own committee’s failure to make the document public, dismissed claims from Democrats and the intelligence officials about the memo’s inaccuracy, refused to answer questions about whether his staffers coordinated with the White House on the memo, then had Republicans on the committee vote to release the document, pending White House review.
It may be hard to see how this could be more of a sham, but it appears Nunes found a way. Late on Wednesday night Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, posted a letter addressed to Nunes in which he alleges that the memo approved for release on Monday was “secretly altered” before it was passed on to the White House.
Schiff says that after Democrats discovered the document was changed, Republicans let them compare the two versions on Wednesday night. “It is clear that the Majority made material changes to the version it sent to the White House, which Committee members were never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved,” Schiff said. He added that the changes did not “correct the profound distortions and inaccuracies,” but are “nonetheless substantive.”
In light of this development, Schiff called for another vote on the release of the modified memo. He suggested this could take place at their next meeting on February 5, when Democrats will also make a new push to make the GOP majority release their memo refuting the Nunes document.
Jack Langer, a spokesperson for Nunes, confirmed that the White House received an altered version of the memo, but downplayed the significance. He told NBC News the changes included “grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by the Minority themselves,” referring to committee Democrats.
“The vote to release the memo was absolutely procedurally sound, and in accordance with House and Committee rules,” Langer said. “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 White House has yet to comment, and it’s unclear if Trump will let this development derail his plans to release the memo. While the White House initially claimed Trump hadn’t made a decision, immediately after the State of the Union cameras caught him assuring a congressman that he would “100 percent” release the memo.
On Wednesday his chief of staff, John Kelly, told a Fox News radio program that it would be public shortly.
“The memo came over, we’ve got our folks, our national security lawyers in the White House that work for me and the president, slicing and dicing it, looking at it so we know what it means and what it understands,” he told host Brian Kilmeade. “It’ll be released here pretty quick, I think. And the whole world can see it.”
A Trump administration official told Reuters that the plan was to release it on Thursday.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray met with Kelly at the White House on Monday to urge him not to release the memo, and according to the Washington Post, Wray called Kelly again later that night, to no avail.
Though FBI officials now have little doubt about what the White House will do, on Wednesday they took the highly unusual step of releasing a statement that generally counters the memo’s conclusions.
“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 statement said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Wray’s decision to formally oppose the memo’s release could be a defining moment in his relationship with Trump, who fired his predecessor and pushed for his deputy’s removal because he doubted their loyalty to him personally. According to the Post, Trump has also been telling advisers “the memo might make people realize how the FBI and Mueller are biased against him, and that could give him reason to force Rosenstein out.”
Does Trump think one altered, inaccurate little memo can provide the justification he needs to get rid of the deputy attorney general, the special counsel, and another FBI director? Looks like we’re going to find out.