FBI Director Christopher Wray sent a striking signal to the White House Wednesday, issuing a rare public warning that a controversial Republican memo about the FBI’s surveillance practices omits key information that could impact its veracity.
The move sets up an ugly clash with the President who wants it released.
“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the agency 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.”
Earlier Wednesday, White House chief of staff John Kelly predicted the memo would be released “pretty quick” and then “the whole world will see it.”
President Donald Trump himself was overheard telling a Republican congressman after the State of the Union address he will “100%” release the memo.
Yet the FBI warning was the latest evidence of law enforcement and intelligence agencies raising concerns about the potential public release of a memo composed by the staff of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California, which some say has inaccuracies and does not paint a full picture of how the surveillance process works, according to two law enforcement sources.
Some Justice Department officials had concerns about publicly expressing continued opposition to releasing the memo, according multiple officials. Trump had already been angered by a letter that the Justice Department sent to the House Intelligence Committee last week warning the release would be “extraordinarily reckless.” The FBI went ahead and issued the statement Wednesday anyway.
Officials from the Justice Department and FBI went to the White House on Tuesday to make a renewed effort to explain to the White House certain inaccuracies they see in the Nunes memo, according to a source familiar with the discussions. The effort came a day after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Wray made similar entreaties to White House chief of staff John Kelly to delay a House vote on releasing the memo.
The memo also faces deep opposition inside the intelligence agencies, multiple current and former intelligence officials tell CNN. The intelligence community’s concern is that by revealing details of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant process, crucial elements of intel gathering will be revealed, potentially causing foreign intelligence targets to change behavior to avoid surveillance in the future.
Specifically, these intelligence officials are concerned that the memo will reveal what goes into a decision to monitor targets, including what kinds of communications are targeted, and how those communications are intercepted.
These intelligence officials emphasize that applications for FISA warrants would need to be based on law enforcement information as well as intelligence gathered independently by US intelligence agencies. That would include intercepted communications and would not meet the standard for approval if the applications were based largely or entirely on outside information, such as the dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.
Republican lawmakers allege that the FISA warrant obtained to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was based in large part on the dossier, and that the judge who approved the application was not made aware to what degree the dossier played a role in the FBI request.
Administration officials cautioned that despite Trump’s comment that the document will be reviewed to make sure that it does not compromise sources and methods.
Likely, whenever Trump sees the document, he won’t see it in a vacuum. It will be accompanied by the relevant agencies weighing in on their interests and contextual underlying intelligence, if warranted.
But the details of how the review is being conducted are still unclear. Wray reviewed the memo over the weekend. Republican members have said that Wray did not raise any objections about inaccuracies at the time.
That said, the Nunes document, the source familiar with the discussion said, is subject to political considerations more so than a typical document that would be subject to this kind of interagency review.