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Morning News Brief: The FBI's No. 2 Official Steps Down


A memo - a much-talked-about memo, though a memo that has been secret, may now actually see the light of day.


Yeah. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted last night to release this classified document. Though few have seen it, it is said that the memo accuses the FBI of using bad information in the early parts of its Russia investigation. Committee Chairman Devin Nunes oversaw the preparation of the memo. He once stepped aside from the Russia investigation but then launched his own investigation, which led to this memo. President Trump could still block the memo from becoming public, which is what his own Justice Department would prefer. So what do the players stand to gain or lose?

GREENE: All right, let's bring in NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas.

Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.

GREENE: OK, so the $6 billion question - what is in this memo we're talking about?

LUCAS: Well, it's still classified so, we don't know exactly what it says. And the interpretation kind of depends on who you ask. The base line of what we have gathered so far is that it basically alleges - Republicans are alleging kind of grave abuses by the FBI and Justice Department of surveillance powers to target the Trump campaign. And the suggestion with this, of course, is that the whole Russia probe is somehow tainted by political bias. Now, Republican lawmakers who have read the memo have presented this as kind of this epic scandal. They say this is something that the American people need to see, and that's one way to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

Democrats, on the other hand - they say that the memo is essentially glorified Republican talking points. They say that they cherry-pick information from classified reports and present this sort of misleading case. And they say that it's also part of the broader GOP effort to discredit the FBI, and by extension, of course, Robert Mueller's investigation. Democrats have drawn up their own memo. It's about 10 pages long. It rebuts the Republican one. That came up for a vote as well in the committee. Republicans voted against releasing it. It may come out later, but this is really just a sign of how partisan the House Intelligence Committee's investigation and the Russia issue generally has become.

GREENE: Partisan - though President Trump's own Justice Department has said releasing this would be extraordinarily reckless. So what exactly is the case against letting this thing come out?

LUCAS: You mentioned the Justice Department. They have been the strongest kind of vocally coming out against this. And the case is that it would basically harm national security. The concern is that by releasing this memo, you could possibly reveal so-called sources and methods of the FBI and the intelligence community more broadly that they use to gather intelligence and conduct investigations. And those are really kind of some of the most closely guarded things that the U.S. intelligence community has. And in normal circumstances, intelligence agencies that own the classified information - in a report, we get to review it first, and this kind of sidesteps that process.

GREENE: And so President Trump now gets to have the final decision on whether this thing is released.

LUCAS: Yes. There's - this is all being done under this kind of obscure House rule that really hasn't been used before. But basically, the Republican memo will now go to the president. He has five days to raise objections about its release - thumbs-up, thumbs-down. If he gives it a thumbs-down, the House can overrule that. But all indications so far are that the president is in favor of releasing this.

INSKEEP: Let's remember what a bizarre political moment this is. We're all discussing a memo that none of us have read and that the public has not read, and even if it were released, we would be unlikely to see the underlying raw intelligence that led to those conclusions. And so as a result, essentially, what we've got here is a political situation where we're all doing a Rorschach test and there's not even an inkblot to look at.


GREENE: Nicely put. All right, NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Ryan, we appreciate it.

LUCAS: My pleasure.


GREENE: OK, so tonight, President Trump is going to be giving his first State of the Union address, and he's expected to be expressing some level of optimism.

INSKEEP: The president is expected to lay out how the U.S. economy is thriving and also try to sell his immigration plans. So what case will he make to lawmakers?

GREENE: Well, let's ask NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell.

Good morning, Kelsey.


GREENE: So one of the big jobs of a president giving this kind of address is usually to lay out the agenda for the year. So what are we expecting to hear in terms of what 2018 might look like?

SNELL: Well, when I talk to members of Congress, what they want to hear is they want to hear guidance on immigration. They want to know where the president is. They want to hear him say it in this speech. They...

GREENE: Because he hasn't been clear on that in - at certain moments.

SNELL: Right. And this is something that's pressing and that they have to deal with right now. They need to get this done by March 5. There is a potential that the president could extend the deadline for DACA, and that's something that perhaps he could address in this speech. They also want more details on this plan to shrink the federal workforce that the White House has been kind of talking about.

Basically, they need a vision for a policy agenda. The planning coffers are pretty empty once Congress finishes this work on the basic functions of funding the government, so this would be an opportunity for the administration to set an agenda and give Congress some guidance on what they should be doing next.

GREENE: OK, so often, we hear it's almost like a laundry list of agenda items in a speech like this, but also, tone - the tone of this speech really does matter here.

SNELL: Yeah. We can look back at the State of the Union - sorry, not the actual State of the Union - the address to Congress that the president gave last year, and that was very forward-looking. It was more upbeat, and it was a big change from what we heard during the inauguration, which was that big American carnage speech.

And, you know, we want to know if Trump is going to be talking like he - you know, that he's going to be rehashing, that he's going to be talking positively. Is he going to be giving directions to Republicans in Congress about the way they should be talking about the victories of last year? Which is something that we expect him to spend a - quite a lot of time on - is the victories of tax reform and the victories of rolling back regulations.

GREENE: What's so interesting about this president - isn't it? - is that sometimes there is this tension between the president who his base wants to hear from.

SNELL: Right.

GREENE: ...And the president who much of Washington wants to hear from in terms of being, you know, a unifier and a negotiator.

SNELL: Yeah. That's what we kind of call Twitter Trump versus on-script or teleprompter Trump.


GREENE: Perfect.

SNELL: And, you know, is this going to be Trump signaling a base strategy for the 2018 midterm elections? One thing that suggests that maybe that's the case is that his campaign arm sent out a fundraising letter last night, and it asked people to donate in exchange for having their names broadcast during a special livestream of the State of the Union. As you mentioned earlier, the State of the Union is usually a moment for a president to set an agenda and deliver a lofty plan, not a campaign moment. And that's a significant shift from that norm.

GREENE: Yeah, really is. What - and what about Democrats? I mean, they'll have the stage tonight, as well.

SNELL: They will. Democrats are preparing kind of a blitz of response. There will be five, and all five of them tell us a lot about how Democrats are positioning themselves in the opposition of Trump.

GREENE: Five different responses from Democrats.

SNELL: Yeah. So the official one will be Joe Kennedy. He's a congressman. And then there will be the Spanish response, which has now become pretty, pretty standard, and that's going to be Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzman. And she was part of the huge sweep of Democrats that won in Virginia last year. But from there, all of the addresses get to the left of the center of the Democratic Party. We're talking about Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, who will be delivering an address on BET, and former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who will be delivering an address in the progressive Working Families Party.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Kelsey Snell setting up the State of the Union tonight. Kelsey, thanks.

SNELL: Thank you.


GREENE: All right, we're going to turn now to Kenya, where an opposition candidate is still refusing to give up.

INSKEEP: Raila Odinga lost two presidential elections. But he says there was fraud, and to protest, he is now holding his own swearing-in ceremony today. Police have been firing tear gas at Odinga's supporters.

GREENE: OK, NPR's Eyder Peralta is there in Nairobi and joins us.

Hi, Eyder.


GREENE: So there's music behind you. There's activity. What exactly is happening today?

PERALTA: So today, Raila Odinga has said that he will take the oath of office. And we have thousands of people gathered at the big city park in Nairobi - Independence Park in Nairobi. And just to set up the kind of conflict here, the government has said that if Raila Odinga takes the oath of office, it is treason, and that is punishable by death.


PERALTA: And he says he will go along with this. And thousands of his supporters have come here to see it.

GREENE: OK, so there have been two elections. The Supreme Court has made its decision. Odinga is not the winner. Why protest? And also, why take this risk if you're him, I mean, if you're being threatened with the death penalty?

PERALTA: Well, you know, what people hear and what he has said is that this president is corrupt, that he has stolen multiple elections and that he has stoked ethnic divisions. And they feel marginalized. And, you know, they believe this is the moment that they've been waiting for since the independence of Kenya. They believe that two tribes in this country have dominated the political space and that it is now time for the other, you know, 30-some tribes to take over.

So that's - you know, they feel marginalized, and they feel like the elections have been stolen from them. And that's at the heart of this. There's a lot of dissatisfaction with the government, and that's what you see manifested on the streets. But as you said, this oath will not be legal. This is a merely symbolic action by Raila Odinga, the opposition leader.

GREENE: So is it just symbolic, or as you listen to people, do you get the feeling that this could go on for some time and really divide the country?

PERALTA: I think that's hard to tell because, you know, Kenya has seen lots of political violence in its history, and it's hard to tell where this goes from here. And I don't think the people here - the thousands of people gathered here - know the answer to that. You know, I think they're also very angry what the government has done today. They shut down three of the major television stations. And so they think that they're fighting against a repressive government, they believe.

GREENE: All right, a tense moment in Kenya. That's Eyder Peralta reporting for us in Nairobi, where an opposition candidate who has lost several elections, according to the courts, is saying that he is going to take his own oath of office, which the government says would be treason. Eyder, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

PERALTA: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVIL NEEDLE'S "CONSCIOUSNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.