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FBI has ‘grave concerns’ on release of Russia memo

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a close ally of President Donald Trump who has become a fierce critic of the FBI and the Justice Department, strides to a GOP conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. House Speaker Paul Ryan is defending a vote by Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

  • President Donald Trump greets Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford after delivering his first State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP) Win McNamee

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D- Calif., center, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, after speaking to the media, Monday on Capitol Hill in Washington. ap photo



Associated Press
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

WASHINGTON — In a remarkably public clash of wills with the White House, the FBI declared Wednesday it has “grave concerns” about the accuracy of a classified memo on the Russia election investigation that President Donald Trump wants released.

The FBI’s short and sharp statement, its first on the issue, laid bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out mostly behind closed doors in meetings between top Justice Department and White House officials.

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

The agency’s stance on the memo, conveyed in a two-paragraph statement, escalates the dispute and means that Trump would be openly defying his hand-picked FBI director by continuing to push for the memo’s disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.

The FBI statement came the day after Trump was overheard telling a congressman that he “100 percent” supported release of the four-page memo, which was drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. The Republicans have said the memo reveals surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the early stages of the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Democrats have called the memo a “cherry-picked” list of GOP talking points that attempts to distract from the committee’s own investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House.

Under the House committee’s rules, the president has five days to object to the memo’s release, which the panel voted to authorize on Monday. But Trump himself already has urged the release, and it could come sooner. By late Wednesday, it had not yet been settled whether the White House or the committee would handle the actual release.

Earlier this week, Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a direct appeal to White House chief of staff John Kelly not to release the memo, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.

But the president has been undeterred.

Television cameras captured Trump, on the House floor after the State of the Union address, telling South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan that he backed the release. When Duncan implored him to “release the memo,” Trump said: “Oh yeah, don’t worry. 100 percent.”

Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the memo will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department had conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

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 shielding intelligence sources and methods.

In the hours before the Monday vote, Rosenstein and Wray warned Kelly that releasing the memo could set a dangerous precedent, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Rosenstein also told Kelly the memo didn’t accurately characterize the FBI’s investigative practices, the person said.

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.