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updated: 2/1/2018 1:38 PM

Trump expected to OK release of controversial memo following some redactions

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  • President Donald Trump, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, speaks at the 2018 House and Senate Republican Member Conference at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

    President Donald Trump, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, speaks at the 2018 House and Senate Republican Member Conference at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
    Associated Press

 
 

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is expected to approve the release of a controversial congressional memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI, after the White House agreed to some redactions at the bureau's request, but the document may not be made public before Friday, according to senior administration officials.

The redactions were the result of a review of the memo's classified contents by White House and intelligence community officials. The memo, which has created a political firestorm, suggests that the early origins of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election were tainted by political bias.

FBI Director Christopher Wray had opposed its release, citing "grave concerns" about key factual omissions and accuracy. The White House was not convinced that release would compromise national security but agreed to redactions to protect sensitive law enforcement methods, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Trump has read the memo, administration officials said, though it remains under review. "The president is inclined to approve release of memo today or tomorrow," a senior administration official said Thursday.

Once Trump approves its release, the White House will transmit the memo back to the House Intelligence Committee, which has the authority to release it to the public.

Staff for the committee's GOP majority wrote the memo. The panel's Democrats have accused the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., of creating a false narrative to undermine Mueller's probe.

The president has told advisers that he believes the memo is "gaining traction" and could help him convince the public that the probe is a witch hunt.

Some Republicans are concerned about the memo's release. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Thursday that "the Senate Intelligence Committee needs to see [the memo], for sure" before it should be made public. Thune, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, also told reporters that if the House was going to release the GOP's memo, they should also release a rebuttal memo from House Democrats at the same time.

"I think they have to take into consideration what the FBI is saying," Thune said of House Republicans angling for the memo to go public. "I think they need to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about how this bears on our national security."

The committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also has concerns about the memo's release, an official said.

Top FBI officials and the Justice Department had been pushing back against Trump's plans to make the memo public, which he promised a lawmaker Tuesday night would happen "100 percent" and which his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, later said would be done "pretty quick."

Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein lobbied Kelly to keep the memo under wraps. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats also met with Kelly at the White House this week and expressed frustration with the process undertaken by House Intelligence Committee Republicans, citing, too, his broader concerns about classification, one U.S. official said.

The FBI released a rare, unsigned statement Wednesday citing its concerns with the four-page memo, which alleges that the British former spy who wrote a now-famous dossier of allegations that Trump has ties to the Kremlin passed bad information to the FBI. The memo alleges that information was later used in an application to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, according to people familiar with the document.

Nunes called the FBI's concerns "spurious" in a statement Wednesday, adding, "It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign."

Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday night to make the memo public, Nunes also rejected Democrats' pleas to have FBI and Justice Department officials brief House members about their concerns with the memo, arguing that both entities had "been under investigation by this committee for many, many months, for FISA abuse and other matters." His comments, according to a newly released transcript of the meeting, surprised Democrats, who accused him of coordinating the memo's release with the White House.

While Nunes denied his own involvement, he refused to answer when asked if the committee majority staff had been in contact with the White House about the memo.

The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has since accused Nunes of making "material changes" to the document that members voted to make public before passing it on to the White House for Trump's review.

The document the White House received differs "in key respects," said a senior committee official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do so for the record. "We have identified five material changes to different parts of the memo, including a modification that appears intended to water down the overall importance of the majority's purported 'findings,' " said the official, who did not elaborate.

Schiff believes those changes are significant enough that they should render the process by which Trump could allow the release of the memo null and void; Nunes disagrees.

On Thursday, the two top Democrats in Congress called on House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to remove Nunes as chairman of the intelligence committee, citing what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called "the GOP's cover-up campaign ... to hide the truth about the Trump-Russia scandal."

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