Now that the much-hyped memo on alleged FBI misconduct in the probe of President Donald Trump’s campaign has been released, questions remain about what it means and where it will lead.
The memo written by Republican House Intelligence Committee staff claims FBI officials used unverified information from a partisan source to obtain a FISA warrant on Trump adviser Carter Page and to renew that warrant three times. It alleges that investigators failed to inform the FISA court of their source’s political motivation and the fact that his research was partly funded by Trump’s opponent’s campaign.
In the days and weeks ahead, there will be many things to watch for:
Democrats compiled their own 10-page memo challenging the GOP’s contentions, but it is unclear exactly when it will be made public. Republicans voted not to release it alongside their memo at a House Intelligence Committee meeting Monday.
The President’s decision to publicly release a misleading memo attacking DOJ & FBI is a transparent attempt to discredit these institutions and undermine Mueller’s probe.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 2, 2018
We'll fight to release our classified response. Until then here's a glimpse at what's wrong with their memo: pic.twitter.com/HX0J6UtDLY
Top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have maintained that they do support eventually releasing the minority rebuttal. It will go through the same process of review by the whole House and eventually the White House that the GOP memo did, so it will likely be at least a week before the public sees it.
Prior to the memo’s release, Rep. Jackie Speier warned Intelligence Committee colleagues that it would prompt calls for the actual FISA applications or the underlying intelligence to be made public as well, and some are already demanding that.
Declassifying a FISA application would be an unprecedented step, and experts say it could be difficult to do without endangering sources and methods of intelligence-gathering. It may, however, be the only way to settle whether either memo reflects the truth.
One point of dispute that has already emerged is the exact wording of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s testimony regarding whether the FISA application for Carter Page would have been approved without the dossier’s information. Lawmakers may look to at least declassify his testimony to provide context.
FBI Director Christopher Wray allowed the release Wednesday of an unusual public statement suggesting a document the president wanted made public was not accurate. He reportedly lobbied Chief of Staff John Kelly strongly to prevent Trump from authorizing its release to no avail.
Now that the allegations are out in the open, he must decide how far he will go to defend his agency against partisan attacks. According to CNN, Wray addressed FBI employees in a video on Friday acknowledging that this is a tough time for the bureau.
“The American people read the newspapers and watch TV, but your work is all that matters. Actions speak louder than words,” he reportedly said.
The FBI Agents Association is also supporting its members.
"The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency,” President Tom O’Connor said in a statement. “FBI Special Agents have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission.”
Another potentially explosive document could be coming soon. The Department of Justice Inspector General’s Office has been conducting an investigation of the FBI’s handling of a number of sensitive matters during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Many of those issues involve the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, but several top officials, including some named in the Nunes memo, also participated in the Trump campaign probe.
According to the Washington Post, one area of inquiry is whether Deputy Director McCabe responded appropriately to the discovery of additional emails on a laptop belonging to a Clinton aide weeks before the election. McCabe resigned unexpectedly earlier this week, and a statement from Wray suggested the reason why may be tied to the inspector general’s report.
There will inevitably be more calls for investigations and hearings from both sides. House Judiciary Committee Democrats have already sought a hearing with Wray to learn more about the FBI’s concerns.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has committed to working with Congress and the DOJ to “fully and fairly ascertain the truth.”
Intelliigence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes indicated at the committee meeting Monday that the FBI and DOJ themselves are now under investigation. Based on a transcript, Democrats in the room were unsure what he was talking about, but this memo certainly will not be the end of the inquiry.
Some Republicans have already suggested the claims in this memo undermine the entire investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
Others, including Speaker Ryan and House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, have taken pains to distinguish criticism of the FBI’s handling of the Russia probe from Mueller’s. Any move against Mueller could face opposition from the left and the right.
As I have said repeatedly, I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not - in any way - discredit his investigation.— Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) February 2, 2018
“The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded,” Sen. John McCain said in a strongly-worded statement. “Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”
The president was coy Friday when asked whether he still has confidence in Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after reading the memo.
“You figure that one out,” he told reporters, though White House officials say he is unlikely to fire Rosenstein.
The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2018
Earlier that morning, he tweeted out a complaint that the FBI and DOJ had been politicized, so he likely will seize on the memo’s contents to advance that case. CNN reported that he hopes the memo will undermine Mueller’s probe, which he often dismisses as a partisan witch hunt.
Trump has not yet responded to the memo’s release on Twitter, but late Friday night and early Saturday morning tend to be prime times for President Trump to fire off his takes on recent news events.