Grassley Signals Push To Release His Own Russia Probe Conspiracy Memo

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, joined at left by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, opens a confirmation hearing for federal prosecutor Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney and Rachel Brand to be associate attorney general, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

As House Intel Committee Republicans’ so-called #ReleaseTheMemo push becomes a full-on GOP obsession on Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) signaled in a floor speech Wednesday that Senate Republicans have a Russia probe conspiracy memo of their own they’d like to release— this one centered on allegations that Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy behind the Trump-Russia dossier, misled federal authorities.

“Stale, recycled media spin from journalists and pundits who do not have all the facts is not enough. The country is filled with frenzy and speculation, but hungry for facts,” Grassley said, according to prepared remarks released by his office.

“However, I cannot release this information on my own, and neither should anyone else. Classified information is controlled by the Executive Branch. We should work together to achieve the greater transparency while still protecting legitimately sensitive national security information.”

The memo Grassley is referring to is one he assembled with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and sent to the Justice Department, along with a cover letter claiming that the memo contained information “related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets ….also provided to the FBI.”

The letter — a recommendation known as a “referral” that the DOJ should pursue criminal charges against Steele — was released to the public, while the underlying memo has remained classified. Ironically, the first criminal referral issued by one of the congressional committee probing Russia’s election meddling was aimed at a person who had embarked on a campaign to expose the Russian efforts.

In his floor speech Wednesday, Grassley said that his efforts to declassify the memo detailing the allegations had been stymied by FBI, which he said “is falsely claiming that three of our unclassified paragraphs each contain the same, single classified fact.”

“If FBI really believed this fact was classified, then the FBI and the Department should take better care to act consistent with that belief. Unfortunately, I suspect something else is really going on here,” Grassley said. “It sure looks like a bureaucratic game of hide the ball, rather than a genuine concern about national security. I am pressing this issue with [FBI] Director [Chris] Wray, and I hope that we can provide this information to the public as soon as possible.”

Republicans have become increasingly focused on the dossier — which leveled a number of allegations about Trump associates’ ties to Russia — as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has heated up.

Despite numerous reports — as well testimony given by the co-founder of the firm that commissioned the dossier — indicating that the dossier did not prompt the federal probe, Republicans have suggested that Democrats, who funded the firm Fusion GPS’ Trump oppo project when the dossier was written, were actually the ones colluding with Russia and the Obama administration to undermine Trump.

“So, Steele, who was working for Fusion GPS, who was working for the DNC and the Clinton campaign, was working with the Russians,” Grassley said Wednesday.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his staff, meanwhile, have put together a separate four-page memo that Republicans say show that federal investigators misled a FISA judge in seeking a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser. According to reports, their claims focus on evidence in the warrant that was offered to the FBI by Steele, and the memo suggests investigators acted improperly by not informing the surveillance court that Steele was being paid as part of Democratic-financed Trump oppo project.

House members have been allowed to see the four-page memo, and many Republicans have joined in a campaign being called #ReleaseTheMemo to advocate that it be made available to the public.

House Intel Democrats in a joint statement called the memo “a misleading set of talking points attacking the FBI,” and said that since that underlying intelligence that it was based upon was classified, it will be “impossible” to explain its alleged inaccuracies.

Grassley in his floor speech Wednesday referenced the House memo, while noting that his committee faces different rules preventing him from releasing the Steele memo without the Justice Department declassifying it.

Grassley also pushed back on the idea that he and Graham were attempting to undermine Mueller’s probe.

“Now, I guess people are going to say whatever they want to say about it, no matter what the facts are. But it doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the public debate to ignore those facts or to speculate—wrongly—about Senator Graham’s motivations, or mine,” he said.