- The White House is expected to release a classified GOP memo Thursday.
- The memo has been a source of controversy for weeks among lawmakers in Washington.
- It reportedly outlines bias against President Donald Trump at the FBI and the Justice Department.
A classified memorandum that Republicans say exposes corruption at the FBI and the Department of Justice has been the subject of a fiery debate in Washington.
The controversy over what is actually alleged in the memo – and whether it should be released to the public – has put Democrats, Republicans, and top officials at the FBI and the DOJ at odds in an unprecedented showdown.
It could come to a head Thursday as the White House is expected to make the document public, a Trump administration official told Reuters.
Here’s what you should know about the memo:
Why was it drafted?
The memo is a four-page document that contains classified information culled together by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and his aides. Nunes is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. The memo was drafted as part of a Republican-led investigation into potential bias and corruption among federal law enforcement officials prejudiced against President Donald Trump.
The House Intelligence Committee conducted the investigation alongside a separate investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes, who is close to Trump,recused himself from the Russia probe last April amid an ethics investigation into allegations that he may have illegally disclosed classified information to White House officials.
What does it say?
The memo reportedly accuses top officials at the FBI and the DOJ, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, of misleading a federal judge to extend secret surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, during the 2016 election.
The memo allegedly says the request for extended surveillance authority was based on the Trump-Russia dossier – an unsubstantiated report funded by Democrats – that accused Trump of conspiring with Russia to sway the 2016 election.
The memo reportedly says that FBI and DOJ officials failed to tell the federal judge that the Trump-Russia dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with questionable ties to Democrats.
By leaving this information out of their formal surveillance request, the memo suggests that FBI and DOJ officials relied on politically motivated sources to justify continued spying on Page, The Washington Post reported.
Those are the claims that have been reported to be in the memo. The public won’t know what’s actually in it until it’s released.
What do Republicans think?
Earlier this month, House members were granted special access to view the memo for themselves.
“What I saw is absolutely shocking,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said in a tweet. “This report needs to be released – now. Americans deserve the truth.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan joined the fray as well.
“I think we should disclose all this stuff. It’s the best disinfectant – accountability, transparency, for the sake of the reputation of our institutions,” he said on Tuesday.
As Republicans’ concerns increased, the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo started trending on social media, pressuring Trump to authorise disclosure. Conservative pundits like Sean Hannity on Fox News led the charge.
Republicans backing public release believe the memo, at its core, will expose anti-Trump bias, even corruption, at the highest levels of the FBI and the DOJ.
But a CNN report Thursday said Trump privately tells friends and colleagues at the White House that disclosing the memo would make it easier for him to discredit the special counsel’s probe.
Robert Mueller is investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 election, and whether Trump obstructed justice during the course of that investigation. The memo controversy erupted as Mueller’s investigation heated up, as he appears to be closing in on Trump.
Some Republicans, including Reps. Peter King and Mike Conaway,cautioned their colleagues against publicly releasing the memo for fear that it would be “dangerous” to disclose classified national security information that is not fully reviewed, sourced, and at least partially redacted.
What do Democrats think?
Democrats who have seen the memo dispute the way Republicans have characterised it.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, described the memo as “highly misleading.”
“This represents another effort to distract from the Russia probe and undermine the Special Counsel,” Schiff said in a statement. “With this latest gambit, however, the Majority seeks to selectively and misleadingly characterise classified information in an effort to protect the President at any cost.”
Democrats also introduced a memo of their own to members of the House in order to counter the Republican version. Schiff said it shows how the GOP “distorts the work of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”
In a last-ditch effort to stop the memo from going public, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Ryan on Thursday, imploring the House Speaker to remove Nunes from his position as chairman and “put an end to this charade.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer joined Pelosi in calling for Nunes’ removal, Reuters reported. Their statements came after Schiff accused Nunes of making unauthorised material changes to the memo before Trump saw it.
What do the FBI and DOJ say?
Both law enforcement agencies strongly oppose releasing the memo, citing significant inaccuracies and the potential for classified information to be compromised.
On Wednesday, the FBI made a rare public statement against the House Intelligence Committee’s decision to disclose the memo, citing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Over the weekend, FBI Director Christopher Wray met with Nunes to review the document, but described the meeting as only a “limited” viewing.
Despite pushback from top law enforcement, Trump has hinted that he still wants the memo to get out.
In response to a question about whether he would approve disclosure after the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Trump said, “Oh, yeah, don’t worry, 100%.”