Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have drafted a document they say will counter Republican efforts to discredit the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The panel's top Democrat, Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), intends to ask the panel Monday to allow all House members to read the minority's take on how the FBI and Justice Department handled sensitive information in the Russia investigation. Committee members voted last week to provide lawmakers with access to a GOP memo that suggests federal investigators conducted surveillance in 2016 on people close to President Trump based on bad information procured from a now-famous dossier containing allegations of financial and personal ties between Trump and the Kremlin.
"We need to produce our own memo that lays out the actual facts and show how the majority memo distorts the work of the FBI and the Department of Justice," Schiff said in a telephone interview. If the GOP goes public with its document, he added, Democrats would insist that their memo also be publicized.
"I don't support that step," Schiff said, noting his concern that releasing any of this information could have diplomatic and intelligence-gathering repercussions.
Schiff's announcement comes as Republican leaders in both the House and Senate argue with the Justice Department and the FBI over publicizing information related to the dossier written by a British ex-spy, Christopher Steele. The agencies have claimed that its contents are classified.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) attacked the FBI on Wednesday, saying officials are "falsely claiming" that relevant unclassified information is secret.
"It sure looks like a bureaucratic game of hide the ball, rather than a genuine concern about national security," Grassley added, calling on FBI and Justice Department leaders to "begin an orderly process to declassify as much of that information as possible." He was referring to information contained in the GOP memo and its underlying documents.
In a letter sent Wednesday to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that it would be "extraordinarily reckless" for the committee to release the memo without first giving the Justice Department and the FBI "the opportunity to review the [GOP] memorandum" and tell panel members "of the risk of harm to national security and to ongoing investigations that could come from public release." A copy of Boyd's letter was obtained by The Washington Post.
Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith said that "to release the report at this stage is an abuse of the process for political purposes and demeans the rule of law."
Democrats contend that the Republican effort to criticize federal law enforcement is a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the probe overseen by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Grassley said Mueller "should be free to complete his work, and to follow the facts wherever they lead." And though he has not yet seen the House GOP's memo, he surmised he soon would. Members of the Senate would be free to see its contents so long as Trump doesn't object to its release.
Under House rules, the Intelligence Committee can vote to disclose classified information. The president then has five days to block such action. The earliest that process could start is Monday. According to the White House, Trump is inclined to release the memo after it goes through the national security process.
Conservative Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus indicated earlier this week that Trump would support their efforts to publicize the memo's contents. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) surmised, "Since it helps the president so much . . . he would be happy if the public knows about it."
If the Republican memo's contents are publicly released, Schiff said, the United States' adversaries — particularly Russia — "will no doubt be thrilled" by the opportunity to pore over its contents. A #ReleaseTheMemo social media campaign that House Freedom Caucus members promoted last week, after discussing their plans with Trump, was one of the hashtags most often shared by Russian-linked Twitter accounts over the weekend, according to the German Marshall Fund's Hamilton 68 tracking project.
Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.