WASHINGTON (NBC News) – The House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to send the White House a classified memorandum challenging claims that federal investigators improperly obtained a surveillance warrant on a former Donald Trump campaign adviser, giving the president five days to decide whether to release the information.
All of the panel’s Republicans joined Democrats in voting to take a key step toward disclosing the classified document, even though it offers a point-by-point rebuttal of the memo released last week by Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., purporting to show the Justice Department and FBI withheld critical information from its FISA application on the foreign policy aide, Carter Page.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., leaving a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee, said the panel voted unanimously to send the Democratic memo to the White House for review. Nunes was also seen leaving the secure HPSCI meeting room but made no comment to reporters.
“The majority found themselves in a insupportable position when they released a misleading memo and refused to release the Democratic response, so I think they were compelled to take the action they did today and we think this will be very useful information for the American people to see,” House Intel Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff told reporters after the vote.
Schiff added that he wanted to make sure that any redactions that are made would be “fully explained to the committee” by the FBI and Department and “that the White House does not redact our memo for political purposes and obviously that’s a deep concern.”
Schiff also said Nunes refused to answer questions during the meeting about whether he or his staff had consulted, coordinated with or conceptualized the memo in cooperation with the White House. Schiff added that Nunes read a written response saying “the White House had not been involved in the actual drafting of the memo.”
The four-page Republican memo, released after Trump agreed to declassify it, made two key assertions: That a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele was critical to the FISA warrant application, and that Steele’s work may have been funded by Trump’s political opponents.
Democrats contend that the Nunes memo cherry-picked information from classified documents and misrepresented the testimony of a top FBI official. They pushed last week, unsuccessfully, for their own memo to be released at the same time as Nunes. Republicans only agreed to allow all House members to read it first, delaying sending it for White House review until this week.
Ahead of the vote, Trump lashed out at the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, calling him “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.” In a separate tweet, he praised Nunes as “a man of tremendous courage and grit” who could be “recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed.”
White House officials, though, said they would consider releasing the Democrats’ memo in the same manner they had Nunes. Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said it will undergo a legal review and national security review led by the White House counsel’s office. Schiff has said Democrats already vetted the document with the Justice Department.
Equal treatment would mean that Trump would agree to declassify the document, freeing Democrats to immediately make it public. He could also leave it in a classified state but not object to its release, a step that would bind Democrats’ hands somewhat in being able to discuss its contents but still make it available to the public.
If Trump objects to its release, it could still be made public only if the full House votes to do so, a move that would require at least two dozen Republicans to side with Democrats against the president.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told MSNBC Monday that the Democrats memo has “meat on the bones” while the GOP’s was a “nothing-burger.”
Nunes stood by his memo during a morning appearance on “Fox & Friends.”
“We had to use this process in order to make it public because DOJ and FBI were refusing to investigate themselves, refusing to acknowledge that there were serious problem,” he said.