Secret classified memos, texts between lovers, and deep-state conspiracies. No, it’s not the latest episode of “Homeland,” just another day on Capitol Hill.
House Republicans seem to believe they’ve uncovered the "smoking gun" in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, while House Democrats decry the recent hysteria as an effort to derail the Russia investigation, discredit the FBI, and fuel false conspiracy theories.
We’ve laid out the chaos step-by-step:
A four-page classified memo written up by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California and several of his staff is at the center of the controversy. Congressional Republicans claim the memo reveals widespread surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Department of Justice under the Obama administration in its investigation of Russian meddling in the Trump campaign. Democrats think it’s a distraction and a way to continue the prolonged attack against the FBI and the DOJ.
The House Intelligence Committee voted last week to release the memo to the entire House, which prompted conservatives to take to Twitter to express their shock. “Worse than Watergate,” “deeply troubling,” “shocking” were just a few of the ways some House Republicans described what was in the memo, which then spiraled into a viral hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo.
On Jan 23. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote a joint letter to Facebook and Twitter alleging Russians were responsible for pushing #Releasethememo on Twitter and urged the social media companies to “conduct an in-depth forensic examination.”
On Wednesday, House Intel Republicans said they'd vote to release the memo to the public “as soon as next week,” under the argument that Americans should learn what is in the memo. Since House Intelligence Republicans have a majority on the committee, the vote would likely be in favor of releasing the memo. The president would have five days to approve or deny the request.
Trump, for his part, could declassify the memo himself. And though he has yet to do so, a source told CNN that he is inclined to approve the release of the memo if the House Intelligence Committee approves.
Still, despite talks of it being released to the public, Nunes won’t allow the FBI or the DOJ to see the memo, since “They’re the ones that have the problem,” as Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas told Politico.
The DOJ wrote a letter Wednesday to House Intel Republicans saying it would be ”extraordinarily reckless” for them to release the memo without showing the FBI and the DOJ first.
"Indeed, 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,” the letter stated.
Late Wednesday, House Intel Democrats announced they would be writing up their own classified memo to counter that of the Republicans on the Intel Committee. Drafting a new memo is critical to “setting out the relevant facts and exposing the misleading character of the Republicans’ document so that members of the House are not left with an erroneous impression of the dedicated professionals at the FBI and DOJ.”
Should we change the hashtag to #Release2memos?
Overall, some are wondering why Republicans would create an entire public campaign around releasing the memo when they could declassify it themselves or read it on the Senate floor.
“It’s just so bizarre to watch Republicans calling for releasing the memo as though the power to release it is within the hands of anyone other than themselves,” Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of the Intercept, told Vox. “I mean, they’re holding a document that only they can release, while pretending to be advocating for its release. It’s a bizarre spectacle.”
Separate from the memo situation, Republicans have gone into a frenzy over missing texts between two FBI employees — agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page — which supposedly expose a plot by the FBI to undercut the president.
In December, the Justice Department released messages between the two showing them complaining about Trump and supporting Hillary Clinton. Strzok was cut from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation over the texts.
The FBI last week released more text messages to Congress but said a technical glitch deleted messages between December 2016 and May 2017.
It’s become yet another conservative rallying cry against the FBI and the DOJ, with the president himself calling the messages “one of the biggest stories in a long time.”
On Monday, two Republican representatives — Rep. Trey Gowdy South Carolina and Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas — individually said on Fox News that alluded to a text message about a secret society within the FBI.
It turns out, however, like much of this investigation, there’s another story. ABC News obtained the texts, which was from Page to Strzok and read "Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”
Apparently it was just a joke.
Cover: Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)