A Wednesday letter signed by a Trump appointee in the Department of Justice blasted House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) for not allowing the DOJ to review an anti-FBI memo as House Republicans push for the document’s public release.
The letter, from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, revealed that the House Intel Committee had turned down FBI Director Christopher Wray’s “personal appeal” to review the memo. It also suggested that Nunes himself has not read the underlying intelligence that it is said to form the basis of the four-page memo.
“We believe it would be extraordinarily reckless for the Committee to disclose such information publicly without giving the Department and the FBI the opportunity to review the memorandum and to advise [the House Intelligence Committee] of the risk of harm to national security and to ongoing investigations that would come from public release,” Boyd said.
According to reports, the memo alleges the FBI misled a FISA court judge in seeking a surveillance warrant for Trump campaign adviser Carter Page by not informing the judge that one of its sources — ex-British spy Christopher Steele, author of the so-called dossier — was being paid by Democrats.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee were taken by surprise last week at a committee meeting where the panel voted on party lines to allow House members to view the memo. House Republicans have since advocated that the memo be disclosed to the public — in a campaign called #ReleaseTheMemo — and it is believed that they will seek to use an obscure House rule to publish it.
House Intel Democrats in a joint statement called the memo “a misleading set of talking points attacking the FBI,” while noting that only a handful of lawmakers are permitted to view the underlying intelligence, making it “impossible” to explain to the public the memo’s flaws.
The request by staff of Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) to view the memo was also denied by House Republicans, CNN reported.
The letter from Boyd was the sharpest rebuke yet from the Trump DOJ to Republicans’ smear campaign against the FBI as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe heats up.
The Justice Department was for months resistant to House Intel Republicans’ requests to access materials related to the Russia investigation. Earlier this month, Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein even sought out House Speaker Paul Ryan to mediate their conflict with Nunes. Ryan instead sided with Nunes, CNN reported, and helped work out an agreement for the DOJ to turn over hundreds pages of documents related to the Russia probes.
Wednesday’s letter references those negotiations — and name-checks Ryan specifically — in alleging that releasing the memo represents “a significant deviation from the terms of access” negotiated between Ryan, House Intel and the DOJ.
A spokesman for Ryan pushed back at the DOJ’s characterization of the negotiations.
“As previously reported, the speaker’s only message to the Department was that it needed to comply with oversight requests and there were no terms set for its compliance,” Doug Andres, the spokesman, said in a statement.
A spokesman for Nunes also didn’t respond to TPM’s request for comment.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) — who, according to the letter, was Nunes’ designee to view the intelligence materials — said on CNN Wednesday evening that he didn’t care if the DOJ saw the memo, but asked that his “friend” Boyd “lower the rhetoric.”
“The memo was derived, distilled from information that the Department gave us. So it’s not like there’s new information,” Gowdy said. “Everything in the memo they already have. What they don’t know specifically is what are the complaints. And I’m fine to share them with them, but you can’t possibly say a memo was reckless if you haven’t read it.”
The DOJ has continued to call for House Republicans to let the Department see the memo.
“If you have evidence of wrongdoing, we really need to see that, because if there is something going wrong at the Department of Justice or in the FBI, we want to get to the bottom of it. We want to hold people responsible for it,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, another political appointee at the agency, said on CNN Thursday morning.
She said the department has not seen evidence of wrongdoing, while acknowledging that lawmakers appear disturbed by what they’ve seen of the memo.
“They’ve seen over a thousand pages of material, ” she said, referencing the classified information the DOJ turned over.”Maybe they’ve seen something that we haven’t. Maybe they noticed something based an on interview with a witness compared to that material. That’s why we want to see the memo.”
Update: This story has been updated to included a statement from Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokesperson.