President Trump told a member of Congress Tuesday night that he would "100 percent" allow the public release of a GOP-drafted memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Department of Justice, effectively ending speculation about whether he would back the campaign to declassify the document.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) approached Trump as he exited the House chamber following the State the Union address, and asked him to "release the memo."
"Don't worry, 100 percent," Trump responded, with a wave of his hand.
The exchange was caught by television cameras filming the president after he delivered the address. The president's comments also come as Congress awaits his decision on whether he will allow members to release the Republican-written memo to the public, a question that has sharply divided lawmakers along party lines.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release to the public, starting a five-day clock for the administration to block their plans. Trump had already indicated an interest in making the memo public, according to lawmakers and a senior administration official. But Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray made a last-ditch attempt to change his mind, warning White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on Monday that releasing the memo could set a dangerous precedent, and compromise the FBI's intelligence-gathering techniques.
It was not the first time that law enforcement officials had warned that making the memo public could have negative consequences for the FBI and intelligence gathering. But Wray's and Rosenstein's arguments do not appear to have swayed Trump: A White House spokesman confirmed early Wednesday that the administration's official position is now that Trump will release the memo.
The memo deals primarily with the role that intelligence passed along to the FBI by British ex-spy Christopher Steele played in efforts to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, according to people familiar with the four-page document. The memo suggests that Steele, the author of a now-famous dossier alleging Trump has ties to Russian officials, provided bad information to the FBI — although people familiar with it say the memo does not conclude whether Steele intentionally passed along suspect information or simply made a mistake. Steele's dossier work was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Trump has denied the allegations in it.
Democrats have charged that the GOP memo is a thinly veiled attempt to cast doubt on the underpinnings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia probe, as well as the federal law enforcement agencies behind it. Those on the House Intelligence Committee have prepared a rebuttal memo of their own, which the panel voted Monday to make available to members, but not release publicly.
Republican leaders have defended the decision to release their party's memo, citing a process that puts their document, which has been out for almost two weeks, ahead of the Democrats' document. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that the memo is an effort to determine if "there may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals" and to get the FBI and the Justice Department to "clean their own house."
He stressed that the memo should not interfere with Mueller's probe, or compromise Rosenstein, who oversees that investigation, in any way.
"This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller's investigation, and his investigation should be allowed to continue," Ryan said. He added that he thinks "Rosenstein's doing a fine job," and that he has "no reason to see why he should" step down.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.