The House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo that details alleged surveillance abuses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department, escalating tensions between Republicans and U.S. intelligence agencies.
The Republican-controlled committee passed the vote along party lines, passing the role to President Trump whether to keep the memo classified or release it to the public, with a five-day deadline to review the material. If the president does not make a decision, the committee can release the memo publicly.
It is likely the Justice Department and the FBI will lobby the president during the review period, attempting to keep the memo classified until the legal teams from those agencies have had the chance to review the material.
Another vote along party lines, within the Intelligence Committee, blocked a rebuttal memo from the committee’s Democrats. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee’s senior Democrat, who denounced the moves by the committee, said, “We had votes today to politicize the intelligence process.”
Schiff also noted the committee is investigating the FBI and the Justice Department, which was a claim disputed by committee Republicans, saying that the committee is simply conducting agency oversight.
The movement behind the memo started with congressional action focusing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, began to focus on alleged abuses by intelligence authorities, government agencies and former top officials under the Obama administration.
The Republican memo gives way to rising tensions in the politics surrounding efforts to understand the scope of Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign or its associates were involved with the Kremlin. Republicans in Congress claim the memo shows political bias in the investigative process, while Democrats believe it is a way for the GOP to sabotage the work of special counsel Robert Mueller and the associated law enforcement agencies.
The memo, even before Monday’s vote, had already been the cause for tensions between the political institutions — the White House and Congress — and the Justice Department.
“I am heartsick, as should anyone be who cares about democracy and our nation’s security,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel at the CIA. Current and former intelligence officials have expressed concern that releasing the memo would harm national security.
Those familiar with the content of the memo expressed that the primary target is the FBI and the agency’s relationship with Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy known for the dossier of allegations against Trump and some of his advisors — all of which the president has denied. Steele’s work came about after being hired by a Washington research firm to investigate any connections between Trump and Russian leaders, which was funded by the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Steele’s work was eventually incorporated into a 2016 FBI application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in an effort to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor, with Republicans suggesting that Steele provided false information.
Those familiar with the memo said the document does not conclude whether Steele passed along suspect information to the FBI intentionally, or agency officials made a mistake in using the information as evidence.
According to sources close to Trump, the president wants the memo to be released to the public, in an effort to substantiate his claims that the FBI and the Mueller investigation are biased toward him.
The Justice Department and the FBI have come out against the memo’s release, claiming that it could harm national security and ongoing investigations, as neither agency has had the opportunity to review the material in it.
The tensions surrounding the memo and related investigations marks a broader concern within the U.S. intelligence community, and that political struggles and tensions could damage U.S. intelligence reputations and discourage trust among foreign partners.