“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.”
In publicly making this blunt statement, the FBI places itself on a collision course with the White House. The president, hoping the memo will vindicate him or at least undermine the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, seems disposed to release it. Although the White House says he has not yet read it, Trump was overheard on a hot mic after the State of the Union telling a Republican congressman who asked him to release it, “Don’t worry. One-hundred percent.” Wednesday’s statement looks like a last-ditch effort to convince the White House, but if it doesn’t work, the rift will be clear. Wray risks making himself the second FBI director Trump fires.
The statement was not, however, the last major news on the Nunes beat for the day. Later on Wednesday, CNN reported that in December, as the Justice Department tried to push back on demands for documents from Nunes, Rosenstein visited the White House to ask Trump’s assistance. Ordinarily, such a request would be handled simply. Presidents tend to try to defend the prerogatives of the executive branch, and especially the Justice Department and FBI. But Trump is angry about Robert Mueller’s special-counsel probe and the FBI’s poking into his campaign, and Rosenstein commissioned Mueller; Trump has also publicly and privately expressed anger about Rosenstein, falsely claiming he is a Democrat, even though Trump appointed him. Rosenstein was also preparing for important testimony at the Capitol. Nunes, meanwhile, was a member of the Trump transition team and previously colluded with White House aides on an accusation of intelligence overreach by the Obama administration.
According to CNN, citing “sources familiar with the meeting,” Trump asked Rosenstein if he was “on my team.” Rosenstein reportedly seemed surprised, but replied, “Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President.”
It’s a mysterious episode, but Trump has a history of asking questions of aides that seem to demand personal loyalty, even of those charged with upholding laws. Fired FBI Director James Comey testified under oath that Trump asked him for loyalty in January 2017. At a May meeting, Trump reportedly asked Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, who became acting director of the FBI, who he had voted for in the 2016 election. It’s surprising that Rosenstein would have been surprised to be asked such a question. (When Rosenstein appeared before Congress, he defended Mueller, whom he oversees, and said he approved of the job the special counsel was doing.)
Then CNN dropped another big story about FBI agent Peter Strzok, who has been accused of conspiring to hurt Trump’s campaign; the president has (appallingly) accused him of treason, because he was critical of a presidential candidate in his private communications. The accusations stem from texts that Strzok exchanged with Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer, in which they were critical of Trump, though also critical of Hillary Clinton. There has not yet been any evidence that Strzok affected the course of investigations into either Trump or Clinton.