Trump set to permit release of memo at centre of stand-off with FBI

Document written by Republicans criticises inquiry into president’s links with Russia

US president Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One in Lewisburg, West Virginia where he addressed Republican members of Congress at a retreat. Photograph: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

US president Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One in Lewisburg, West Virginia where he addressed Republican members of Congress at a retreat. Photograph: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

 

The White House is expected to release a controversial memo on Friday in a move that threatens to escalate tensions with the FBI. US president Donald Trump is expected to sanction the publication of the memo, which was sent by the House Intelligence Committee to the White House earlier this week.

The four-page memo, which was written by Republican aides, allegedly details what it claims are flaws in the US intelligence community’s approach to the Russia investigation. In particular, it claims that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein did not make clear to a federal court when he requested permission to extend FBI surveillance of former Trump aide Carter Page that some of the information he was citing had come from a Fusion GPS report that had originally been financed by Democrats.

The House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to release the memo, invoking a rarely-used congressional rule. But in a highly unusual move, the FBI criticised the decision, calling on Mr Trump not to publicise the document, which could contain classified information.

“The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said in a statement. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Mr Trump, who had five days to review the document, is understood to have read the memo and to have approved some redactions. It will now be sent back to the House Intelligence Committee, which is expected to release it on Friday.

The memo has become a bitter battleground between Republicans and Democrats in the ongoing Russia investigation, and follows growing claims by Mr Trump’s allies that the FBI and the Russia investigation is biased against him. An online campaign #releasethememo gained traction in recent weeks, pushing the issue to the fore.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee also compiled their own memo on the underlying document, but Republicans on the committee blocked its release.

On Thursday, there were growing calls by Democrats for Republicans not to publish the memo. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, called for a fresh vote to be held on its release, claiming that the memo had been changed since the committee voted on it on Monday.

“There is no longer a valid basis for the White House to review the altered document,” he said, describing the development as “deeply troubling”.

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes is leading the drive to publish the controversial memo. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes is leading the drive to publish the controversial memo. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Democrats have focused in particular on the role of committee chairman Devin Nunes, the Republican leading the drive to publish the document. Mr Nunes previously stepped back from his committee’s investigation into Russia last year after it emerged that he may have briefed the White House on classified material. The congressman from California worked for the Trump campaign before Mr Trump’s election.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer accused Mr Nunes of working to “undermine the rule of law and interfere with the Russia probe”.

On Thursday, House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi wrote to House speaker Paul Ryan calling on him to remove Mr Nunes as chairman of the committee.

The continuing controversy unfolded as Mr Trump addressed Republican members of Congress at a retreat in West Virginia. Mr Trump was later due to attend the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Thursday night.

Speaking to attendees at the retreat in White Sulphur Springs, Mr Trump spoke about his relationship with the Republican party. “Without them, I could have never won the presidency, I guess,” he said. He also criticised Democrats for not applauding during his State of the Union speech. “They would rather see us not do well than see our country do great,” he said.