Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are accusing Republicans on the panel of secretly making changes to a controversial, GOP-drafted memo alleging abuse of spying laws before sending it to the White House for potential public release.
In the latest partisan exchange between members of the committee, Democrats say the committee now must recall the memo from the White House, where the president is currently weighing whether to release the document, arguing that it is not the version members voted to declassify earlier this week. The memo purports to show FBI abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act during the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
However, Republicans on the committee say the changes cited by Democrats consisted of “minor edits to the memo,” such as grammatical changes.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said that after Democrats made the discovery of “material changes” to the memo Wednesday night, Republicans allowed them to compare the two documents.
“After reviewing both versions, it is clear that the Majority made material changes to the version it sent to the White House, which Committee Members were never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved,” Schiff said in a letter to committee chairman Devin Nunes, whose staff wrote the memo.
“This is deeply troubling, because it means that the Committee Majority transmitted to the White House an altered version of its classified document that is materially different than the version on which the Committee voted,” Schiff said. “The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the Committee never approved for public release.”
Schiff said it’s “now imperative that the Committee Majority immediately withdraw the document that it sent to the White House.” He urged Nunes to redo the vote to declassify the document on Monday, when the committee is also expected to vote to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats to counter the one put forth by Republicans.
But in a statement, a spokesperson for Nunes downplayed the changes cited by Schiff.
“In its increasingly strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo, the Committee Minority is now complaining about minor edits to the memo, including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by the Minority themselves,” the spokesperson said. “The vote to release the memo was absolutely procedurally sound, and in accordance with House and Committee rules. To suggest otherwise is a bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo, which the public will hopefully soon be able to read for themselves.”
Democrats, however, maintained that the changes were not insignificant and that Republicans should redo the vote to declassify the memo. “[T]he changes are not cosmetic and almost all of them are unrelated to concerns about sensitive information,” a senior Democratic committee official told BuzzFeed News. “Instead, they try to water down some of the Majority’s assertions. While the Minority has continually pointed out flaws in the majority document, we have not requested any changes because we feel the whole document is fundamentally flawed.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement shortly after Schiff, saying it’s “clear that Chairman Nunes will seemingly stop at nothing to undermine the rule of law and interfere with the Russia probe.”
“He’s been willing to carry the White House’s water, attack our law enforcement and intelligence officials, and now to mislead his House colleagues,” Schumer said, adding that if House Speaker Paul Ryan “cares about the integrity of the House or the rule of law, he’ll put an end to this charade once and for all.”
Schiff’s accusation comes the same day the FBI, in a rare public statement, blasted the Republican memo, saying the agency has “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the document.
“As the FBI made clear in its statement today, any alterations made in the memo do not cure the factual problems identified by the FBI and DOJ,” the senior Democratic committee official said. “This is because no new information was added and the FBI had no opportunity to properly vet the information in the brief period it had to review the matter before the committee vote.”
The day before the committee voted to send the memo to President Donald Trump — who has five days to decide whether to release it — FBI Director Christopher Wray viewed the document on Capitol Hill. Then, at his request, committee staff went to the FBI on Monday afternoon — hours before the vote — to share the memo “with two senior FBI employees for their input,” according to a transcript of the committee meeting.
The same day, Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to urge against releasing the memo.
The Department of Justice has also warned House Republicans against releasing the memo without first allowing the department to review it, saying that doing otherwise would be “extraordinarily reckless” and could endanger national security.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on the committee's back-and-forth Wednesday night.
Chris Geidner contributed reporting.