- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A rare public challenge by the FBI to Republican lawmakers has intensified the battle over a contentious House intelligence committee memo that accuses the bureau and the Justice Department of political bias against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday warned that the document omits key information, which makes it misleading — putting his leadership on a collision course with Mr. Trump and his Republican allies who want a prompt release of the document.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence voted this week to make the document public.

“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 FBI statement said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee — who was warned by the Justice Department last week that releasing the document would be “extraordinary reckless” — pushed back against the FBI.

“Having stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year, it’s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies,” Mr. Nunes said.

SEE ALSO: FBI says it has ‘grave concerns’ over GOP memo

“The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses,” Mr. Nunes said.

The document, which has been made available to all House members, reportedly shows abuses in the intelligence community in order to obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Trump campaign aides. The salacious anti-Trump dossier compiled by a former British spy was partially used as justification for observing Trump associates.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to say whether the bureau would publicly identify the “material omissions of fact” if the White House does not block release of the memo.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration is completing a “legal and national security” review before taking action on the memo.

On Tuesday night, as he left the floor of the House chamber after completing his first State of the Union address, Mr. Trump was overheard telling Rep. Jeff Duncan, South Carolina Republican, that he “100 percent” will make the memo public.

Democrats object

SEE ALSO: Devin Nunes exposes extent of Democrats’ Trump surveillance

Capitol Hill Democrats, who fought bitterly against the memo’s pending release, rallied to the FBI’s side. They said the entire memo was concocted to mislead the public and discredit the FBI, the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election.

“It’s clear the [memo’s] goal is to undermine the special counsel’s investigation,” said a statement by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“There have also been reports that Congressman Nunes refuses to answer whether his staff worked with the White House on the memo’s creation. There’s no excuse for playing politics with highly classified information. The president shouldn’t place personal or partisan interests above our national security,” Ms. Feinstein said.

House intelligence committee Democrats, who voted Monday night against releasing the memo, drafted their own response to the document — which House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, was still reviewing.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, said the memo in no way proves that Obama-era officials made inappropriate requests to uncover the identities of Trump campaign members swept up in foreign intelligence reports.

Mr. Schiff published an op-ed in The Washington Post saying Mr. Nunes “cherry-picks facts” to smear “the FBI and the Justice Department — all while potentially revealing intelligence sources and methods.”

The Justice Department 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, Mr. Wray reviewed the memo over the weekend.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, who was with Mr. Wray when he reviewed the memo, said the FBI director did not raise any national security concerns. Mr. Gowdy said the memo doesn’t reveal any intelligence methods but does reveal one source.

The drama is materializing as Mr. Mueller investigates whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the campaign and whether Mr. Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Mr. Comey as FBI director.

Under the House committee’s rules, the president has five days to object to the memo’s release, which the panel voted to authorize Monday.

The White House counsel’s office has been in possession of the memo, officials say. The National Security Council is leading a review, which will also involve the White House legal team.

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

McCabe gone

The agency released its statement just days after FBI Director Andrew McCabe stepped down. A government official said Mr. McCabe, who left the bureau Monday, is using his retirement eligibility to leave a few weeks earlier than planned.

But Fox News reported that Mr. Wray removed Mr. McCabe from the agency a day after Mr. Wray viewed the surveillance memo on Capitol Hill. Mr. McCabe is also leaving as reports surface that the Justice Department’s inspector general is reviewing his role in the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.

The Justice Department’s inspector general began the inquiry in January 2017 into several aspects of the Clinton email investigation, including whether Mr. McCabe should have recused himself.

Mr. McCabe’s wife, Jill, received political contributions totaling $467,500 from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, for her unsuccessful state Senate campaign in 2015. Records show that the state Democratic Party made two other payments totaling $207,788 to her campaign.

Mr. McAuliffe was co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the inspector general was reviewing reports that the FBI “appeared not to act for about three weeks” after discovering Clinton-related emails on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, New York Democrat. Mr. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, was one of the top advisers for Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. McCabe, the second highest ranking official at the FBI, examined the emails in late October 2016, nearly three weeks after the agency became aware of their existence, The Post reported.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Dan Boylan can be reached at dboylan@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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