The Trump administration treated Nunes’s memo, which the chairman would not allow the FBI or the Department of Justice to review before it was sent to the White House to declassify, very differently. Department of Justice officials wrote a letter to Nunes urging him not to release the document, and the FBI issued a rare public statement expressing “grave concern” over the memo’s impending release.
Trump declassified the Nunes memo anyway, after conducting a national-security and legal review with relevant staff and the director of national intelligence, McGahn said in a letter accompanying the Nunes memo’s release. It was not clear what steps were taken to mitigate the Justice Department’s concerns. The memo contained no redactions. Trump has said that the Nunes memo vindicates his belief that the Russia investigation, which is now being run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is politically motivated. The Nunes memo acknowledges, however, that the Russia investigation began in July of 2016, after Trump adviser George Papadopoulos was offered derogatory information on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources. That inquiry has since broadened to examine whether or not the president attempted to obstruct justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey.
Democrats emphasized when preparing to send their rebuttal memo to the White House that the Justice Department and FBI would be given the chance to review the document before it would be made public—a step Nunes declined to take, he said, because the FBI and Justice Department were the subjects of an ongoing investigation by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
It is unclear whether Nunes will accept the changes made by the FBI and Justice Department to the Democrats’ memo, given their purported status as a subject in the Republicans’ investigation. His spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Democrats have pressed Nunes for answers over whether he coordinated with the White House to research and produce the memo’s claims. He told the committee on Monday that “there was involvement in drafting the memo with the White House,” but Democrats were not satisfied by that answer, because it left open the possibility that the administration had aided the production of the memo in some way. Schiff told me on Tuesday that it sounded like the committee’s lawyer had written that response for Nunes. Congressman Eric Swalwell, meanwhile, a Democrat who sits on the committee, told me it’s worth asking whether Trump, who is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, should have access to evidence that’s relevant to that investigation.
The Nunes memo focused largely on the inclusion of a dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele in the FBI’s application for an order to spy on Page. Steele’s dossier was produced on behalf of Fusion GPS, first retained by anti-Trump Republicans and then a law firm hired by the Democratic National Committee, to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. Republicans alleged that the FBI had failed to tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Steele’s research on Trump’s Russia ties, which implicated Page, had been financed by a law firm hired by the Democratic National Committee.