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The FBI And The Nunes Memo


On Capitol Hill, there is this secret memo that's being kept in a secure room in the Capitol. And for a document that is classified, it is getting a whole lot of publicity. This is a four-page report prepared by Representative Devin Nunes. He's chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And he's been investigating whether the Obama administration abused surveillance powers to target the Trump campaign. This memo is classified. Only members of Congress have seen it, though they're not able to talk about exactly what is in it. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: I know you can't tell us what is in this memo since it's classified, but what can you tell us about it?

LUCAS: Well, it's important to note, as you did, that Devin Nunes is the man behind this. He's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And importantly, he is an ally of President Trump. You may remember that Nunes stepped aside from the committee's Russia investigation amid an ethics probe into his handling of classified information. He was later cleared in that. But in the interim, he's basically been conducting his own investigation parallel to the committee's probe. And this memo is the output of that effort.

And at root, it purportedly alleges that the FBI and the Justice Department abused a surveillance power known as FISA to target the Trump campaign, also reportedly alleges that the FBI leaned on the infamous Trump-Russia dossier to help get court approval of its surveillance.

And I say reportedly because, as you said, this memo is classified. It hasn't been released to the public. We don't know what's in it. But it has become a rallying cry, really, for conservative Republicans in the House, suggesting that this is an epic scandal. One said that it's worse than Watergate. The public must see it. There's even a hashtag on Twitter, #releasethememo, that's been trending. Interesting point here, though - Russia-linked networks on Twitter were promoting the hashtag in recent days. That's according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy which researches influence operations by Russia and other countries.

GREENE: I'm just thinking - worse than Watergate. I mean, that's quite a charge to make for a memo that we really don't know what's in it. I mean, have Democrats been able to see this memo? And what are they saying about it?

LUCAS: Democrats have seen it, yes, and they have been pretty blistering in their criticism of it. They say it's basically a hit job that tries to discredit the FBI and by extension, of course, special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation. All of the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee put out a statement. They called this memo a misleading set of talking points for Republicans. And they boil it down to this - that it is indeed an attempt to undermine Mueller while at the same time kind of turning a blind eye to the political damage that it could do to the FBI and the country's democratic institutions.

GREENE: So this is a political back-and-forth right now. I mean, Republicans saying this is an epic scandal, Democrats saying this is a smear campaign. Are we ever going to be able to resolve this in some way and actually know what's there?

LUCAS: Releasing the memo would be the way to really find out. And we don't know at this point whether it will be released. Republicans say they're searching for a way to do that. What we do know is that the FBI hasn't seen the memo yet. It says it's requested a copy. They want to evaluate it and take appropriate steps. To date, that request has been denied. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday that Trump might become involved in the declassification process if it reaches that point.

GREENE: OK. So Republicans have been pushing this memo at a time when the special counsel's investigation is going forward. They have also been really playing up some text messages between an FBI investigator and a lawyer at the bureau. What's going on there?

LUCAS: That's right. The president himself alluded to that yesterday on Twitter. These are texts between an investigator who's a senior FBI official involved in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia probe and an FBI lawyer. The Justice Department has provided the texts to Congress. There are texts from about a five-month stretch that were missing. The Justice Department says this was because of a technical glitch when the FBI upgraded its phones. But again, the focus on the texts and the memo are both part of, basically, a long-running effort by some Republicans, particularly in the House, to paint the FBI and the Mueller team as politically biased.

GREENE: NPR's Ryan Lucas joining us this morning. Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.