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What you need to know about "the Nunes memo"

Here's why Trump is releasing this classified memo and why Democrats are fuming

Update 1:05 P.M.: the full -- and highly controversial -- Nunes memo can be read here. President Trump released the long-awaited "Nunes memo" Friday, a move that is pitting House Republicans and the president against the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Democrats who are accusing Republicans of endangering democracy.

Trump is releasing the memo because, as he tweeted Friday, “top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.


Here is everything we know about the memo:

What is it?

It's six pages pages written by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee. It contains classified information relating to the Russia investigation that potentially will undercut its credibility. Through a never-before-used procedural rule, the committee and the president have the power to release it without permission from the intelligence community. Nunes said the intelligence community had “stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year.”

What we know about what it says

The memo suggests that the FBI and the Justice Department relied, in part, on the infamous Steele dossier to justify surveilling Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page during the presidential campaign and afterward, according to people who have described the memo to various media outlets. The memo reportedly says that the FBI did not properly disclose to the FISA court that the dossier was funded by political opponents of Donald Trump including Democrat Hillary Clinton. It also may single out Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, for reauthorizing that surveillance in 2017.

“It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign,” Nunes said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”


Why the FBI/DOJ is angry

The memo reportedly accuses the FBI and the Department of Justice of abusing their power behind closed doors in order to hurt the Republican Party. It also reportedly reveals classified information without going through the usual vetting and redaction process, which is overseen by the FBI and the Justice Department.

In response to these accusations that undermine their credibility as nonpartisan enforcers of the law and freezing them out of the process, the FBI and the Justice Department took the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking the House Intelligence Committee the last two weeks. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy,” said the FBI in an unsigned statement.

Assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd echoed that sentiment in his own letter to Nunes. “We do not understand why the committee would possibly seek to disclose classified and law enforcement sensitive information without first consulting with the relevant members of the intelligence community,” Boyd wrote.

Why the Democrats are angry

Many Democrats say they are concerned about national security and releasing classified information. But the more likely reason that Democrats are so angry is that this memo is a blatant and potentially misleading effort to undermine the Russia investigation and help protect Trump at the cost of eroding trust in American institutions. Democrats prepared their own memo to counter Nunes’ but the Republicans on the committee blocked its release, further infuriating Democrats.

Why this is all highly unusual

It’s not just unusual, it’s unprecedented. In the aftermath of Watergate and the Church Committee that investigated abuse by the intelligence community, the congressional intelligence committees gave themselves the power to release classified information if “the public interest would be served by such disclosure.” That explanation and the procedure is laid out in Rule X, Clause 11, paragraph (g) of the House of Representatives’ standing rules.

But Congress has never used that authority according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. Until now.

What we still don't know

  • We don’t know what the Justice Department and the FBI want redacted.
  • We don’t know if Devin Nunes wrote this memo at the instruction of or in collaboration with the White House.
  • We don’t know what the fallout will be. Does FBI Director Christopher Wray resign after being overruled by the president? Does Trump use the memo as justification to fire Rosenstein and take control of the Russia investigation?