FBI has 'grave concerns' about Russia memo House Republicans want to release

The FBI says it has “grave concerns” about omissions in a classified memo on the Russia investigation that U.S. President Donald Trump wants to release to the public.

The statement Wednesday was the FBI’s first public comment about a four-page memo that was drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee and that has divided the Justice Department and White House.

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

 The statement came hours after Trump was overheard in the House of Representatives after delivering his state of the union address reassuring Jeff Duncan of South Carolina that he was “100 per cent” in favour of releasing the document after the Republican congressman urged him to do so.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said Wednesday on Fox News Radio that he expected the memo to be released “pretty quick.”

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN that as of last night, Trump had not yet read the memo.

Unprecedented step

The vote to release the memo was unprecedented in the committee’s history. The panel usually goes out of its way to protect classified information in the interest of protecting intelligence sources and methods.

According to Republicans, the memo alleges surveillance misconduct in the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into potential Trump campaign ties to Russia. But Democrats have called it a “cherry-picked” list of GOP talking points.

They have characterized the move as a brazen attempt to discredit the investigation special counsel Robert Mueller has undertaken.

The probe is looking into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian officials.

“Today this committee voted to put the president’s personal interests, perhaps their own political interest, above the national interest,” said Democratic congressman Adam Schiff on Monday.

CATO Institute pundit explains details behind FBI memo controversy4:21

The memo was written by Republicans on the committee, led by chair representative Devin Nunes of California, a close Trump ally. Nunes was reprimanded last year and accused of improperly sharing classified information with the White House.

On Wednesday, Nunes said in a statement that the FBI and Justice Department objections to its release were “spurious.”

Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference is separate from those taking place in both the Senate and House.

House Speaker Paul Ryan supports the memo’s release, saying Tuesday that it shows “there may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals” but has said the memo shouldn’t be used to undermine Mueller’s work.

FBI director reviewed memo

Trump has denied the collusion charge, and Vladimir Putin and Russian officials have insisted they didn’t meddle in the election.

Trump has repeatedly publicly criticized the bureau and the Justice Department, unprecedented for a modern president.  Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of the president’s ire for perceived bias, stepped down earlier than planned from his role on Monday.

Some of the president’s actions, including his firing last year of FBI director James Comey just four years into a 10-year term, have raised speculation as to whether the special counsel would also potentially investigate obstruction of justice.

Trey Gowdy and Christopher Wray

South Carolina congresssman Trey Gowdy, left, who announced he won’t seek re-election on Wednesday, was present when FBI Director Christopher Wray reviewed the document, it has been reported. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters, Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The statement Wednesday was signed off on by Christopher Wray, Trump’s choice to succeed Comey.

Republicans have said they are confident the release won’t harm national security. Democrats have said the memo’s release could compromise intelligence sources and methods.

The Justice Department had said in a letter last week that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without first giving the FBI and the department the chance to review it.

After those complaints, Wray reviewed the memo over the weekend. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, who was with Wray when he reviewed the memo, said the FBI director did not raise any national security concerns with him. Gowdy — who announced Wednesday he won’t seek re-election to the House — said the memo doesn’t reveal any intelligence methods but it does reveal “one source.”

#ReleaseTheMemo social media questions

Schiff and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, both from California, on Wednesday asked Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to answer questions about potential Russian involvement in social media campaigns that urged release of the memorandum.

“We reiterate our request that you immediately take necessary steps to expose and deactivate such accounts if you determine that they violate your respective user policies,” the Democratic lawmakers said in a statement.

 At issue is an online campaign, using the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo.

In its response, released publicly on Wednesday by the lawmakers, Twitter said a preliminary analysis using available geographical data related to the use of the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag did not identify “any significant activity connected to Russia.”

Secret memo hangs over Washington9:38

Twitter also said it observed use of the hashtag by high-profile accounts that have a high number of followers, which “plays a role in driving conversations around a hashtag.”

It questioned the findings of an online dashboard maintained by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the nonpartisan German Marshall Fund think-tank, because the group does not publicly disclose the accounts it tracks. Earlier this month, the alliance found a huge spike in use of the hashtag by Twitter known or suspected to be under Kremlin influence.

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