#ReleaseTheMemo: What’s behind the document conservatives want you to see
As investigations into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign continue, conservatives are now pushing for the release of a potentially scathing look at the FBI and the infamous dossier compiled by British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.
Conservatives on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, have produced a four-page memo outlining alleged abuses by the intelligence community regarding the FBI probe into Trump’s Russian ties. The committee voted along party lines to make the memo available to the entire House membership — and now, conservatives want it to be made available to the American public.
Spurred on by the now-viral hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, the Daily Beast reported Saturday night that the memo’s public release is “only a matter of time.” Sixty-five members of Congress sent a letter to Nunes requesting the memo’s public release, saying it “will be of interest to anyone who cares about America and our democratic system of government.”
The memo, which the Washington Post noted is based on classified material from the Department of Justice and FBI, would be released through a never-before-used process that could take more than a week, according to the Daily Beast. Rep. Dave Joyce noted on Twitter that the House Intelligence Committee “plans to begin the process” to release the memo, and projected it could take 19 or more working days.
What’s in the memo?
The controversial memo, according to the Post, contains claims discrediting the Steele dossier, which contains explosive claims about Trump’s Russian connections, and the firm that commissioned it, Fusion GPS.
The document reportedly claims that Steele lied to FBI agents who interviewed him as part of an investigation into the 2016 election, telling them that he had not spoken to reporters about collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign before revealing in a separate lawsuit that he, in fact, had spoken to them prior to the election.
Steele’s alleged lie was then used as part of the FBI’s application to surveil Trump associate Carter Page through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the memo reportedly claims.
Republicans have frequently decried the controversial dossier, although several of its claims have been verified. The dossier’s most salacious claims, including Trump’s alleged relations with Russian prostitutes, remain unverified.
Experts cited by NBC News said that using Steele’s information in its FISA application would not have been “unusual or improper,” as there was “probable cause” suggesting the information was likely to be true. Steele had worked with the FBI previously, and his information matched other reports the bureau had received about Trump and Russia from a variety of other sources.
A FISA application would also have required far more information than the dossier, the Post noted.
Reactions to the report
Right-wing supporters of the president have now taken up calls to release the memo, pointing to it as further proof Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign should come to an end.
“I have a message tonight for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III: Your witch hunt is now over,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said, as quoted by the Post. “Time to close the doors.”
Donald Trump Jr. has also been outspoken about the memo’s release, writing on Twitter Friday: “Prediction: Democrats will take an even stronger stance on shutting down the govt so that becomes the narrative rather than talking about the release of the apparently very damaging memo. Media will obviously be complicit in helping them!”
Democrats, however, have suggested the report is less damaging than the Republican outrage would have the public believe. In a statement, Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence, called the memo “profoundly misleading,” noting that it was “drafted by Republican staff attacking the FBI.”
“Rife with factual inaccuracies and referencing highly classified materials that most Republican Intelligence Committee members were forced to acknowledge they had never read, this is meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI,” Schiff said in a statement, as quoted by the Post. “This may help carry White House water, but it is a deep disservice to our law enforcement professionals.”
Democratic sources quoted by the Huffington Post have also described the memo as “full of omissions and distortions” meant to give Trump cover as the Russia investigations continue.
“It’s a distorted view of what the FBI has been doing,” an anonymous source told the Huffington Post. “The majority of the committee is only sharing it so that other members of the caucus can also disparage and discredit the FBI.”
The fervor over the memo’s potential public release was sparked by the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The viral hashtag was first popularized by Trump Jr. and several Conservative politicians, including Reps. Peter King and Mark Meadows, as well as Wikileaks, who offered $1 million in bitcoin to anyone willing to transfer the memo.
The hashtag has also been taken over by Russian bots. According to Russian Twitter tracking website Hamilton 68, the volume of traffic related to the phrase is the most coordinated effort Hamilton 68 has seen since its launch in August 2017.
“I’ve never seen any single hashtag that has had this amount of activity behind it,” Bret Schafer, an analyst who helps run the Hamilton 68 dashboard, told the Associated Press.
Democrats are pointing to the groups popularizing the hashtag as further proof that the outcry has a political motive.
“Not surprisingly, the GOP campaign to attack the FBI now has been joined by the same forces that made common cause during the Trump campaign — Wikileaks, Julian Assange and a multitude of online Russian bots are now involved in promoting this effort,” Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement. “It should be seen for what it so plainly is: yet another desperate and flailing attempt to undermine special counsel Mueller and the FBI, regardless of the profound damage it does to our democratic institutions and national security agencies.”