House Intel Committee could hold dueling votes on releasing secret memos

Donald Trump

Republicans on the committee are expected to vote as early as Monday on the memo's release, taking advantage of an obscure House rule that allows the intelligence committee to release classified information determined to be in the public interest.

First, a bit of background: The Nunes memo is reportedly a four-page document that is supposed to show various alleged intelligence collection abuses tied to the Russian Federation investigation and the Trump campaign. They say it's part of a broader GOP campaign to undermine the bureau and, by extension, special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation. Top White House aides have strongly indicated Trump would approve releasing the memo.

Consider, by way of contrast, the approach the executive branch took with respect to the Senate Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program (better known as the "SSCI RDI Report") and the infamous "28 Pages" from the congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11.

Apart from making the majority memo available to the entirety of House membership, the majority has so far kept a tight grip on access to it, denying the Justice Department an opportunity to review its contents.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd has said the memo draws on classified information and it would be "extraordinarily reckless" to release it.

Democrats have characterized the memo as misleading talking points created to smear the Federal Bureau of Investigation and said it inaccurately summarizes investigative materials that are also classified. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of SC and Thom Tillis of North Carolina have all supported various measures that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Trump, according to The Washington Post.

In 2013, an investigation claimed that a Russian spy had allegedly tried to recruit him although Page was never charged with any wrongdoing and has denied he would ever have cooperated with Russian intelligence officials, according to the New York Times. It cites the role of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe for their roles in overseeing aspects of the investigation, according to a source briefed on the matter.

One problem, said Barry Bennett, a former senior adviser on the Trump campaign, is that subordinates sometimes confuse Trump's angry comments for actual administration directives. But, as a former government national security lawyer, I think it's important to emphasize that, if the executive branch were to follow the process that has been reported-i.e., allowing the Congress to release the memo without any executive branch classification review-it would be deeply problematic. On Sunday, Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said on CBS News' "Face the Nation," "We typically prefer transparency... if there are concerns, I think it would be helpful for Americans to know about it; we would be open for that being released". Trump reportedly is not opposed to its release.

Because the memo is classified, a final decision on its release would fall to President Trump, who would have five days to make a decision.

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