FBI Prepares For Release Of Controversial Memo

Feb 2, 2018
Originally published on February 2, 2018 7:43 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The long-awaited memo is likely to see the light of day today. President Trump has indicated that he is going to allow the secret document to be made public. It's going to be released despite strong objections from the Department of Justice and the FBI, which said it has, quote, "grave reservations" about the accuracy of the document. The White House and Congressional Republicans say this is all about transparency. Here's House Speaker Paul Ryan yesterday pushing for the memo's release.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: If there are certain individuals who did the wrong thing, who either brought bias or cut corners or did something wrong that implicates on American civil liberties, it is our job as congressional overseers to bring people to account so that it doesn't happen again.

MARTIN: The memo reportedly calls out the FBI for mishandling early parts of the Russia investigation. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is with us now. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: This has been such a long, drawn out drama. But even releasing this memo today, I imagine, it's not going to put an end to this fight.

JOHNSON: Not at all. Remember, this memo is a product of the Republican staff on the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Devin Nunes, not endorsed by the Democrats. In fact, the Democrats have produced their own document, which may come out at a later date. It's hard to imagine that whatever is in this four-page memo, which we've been talking about for days and days now, will not wind up less significant than what it signifies moving forward, which is a big breach between the White House, President Trump and his intelligence communities, his Justice Department and his FBI.

MARTIN: I mean, Chris Wray just took over as the head of the FBI, and now he's in this tough position having to defend the Agency against the same president who appointed him. What is it going to mean for Wray going up against the president in this high-profile fight and then losing it?

JOHNSON: Well I'm told the FBI is getting ready for this memo release, may make a public statement about it once it emerges. Just yesterday, the FBI Agents Association put out a statement of praise for the new director Chris Wray, praising him for standing shoulder to shoulder with them, having integrity and reminding folks that the FBI takes an oath to the Constitution, not the president. Wray also got some kind of support from the fired FBI director Jim Comey, who took to Twitter last night and said, (reading) all should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would, but, take heart, American history shows that in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field so long as good people stand up.

MARTIN: Wow.

JOHNSON: Now, there's some buzz in the White House that Wray might resign over this. I'm told not to expect that, at least in the immediate term.

MARTIN: So it's not just Chris Wray and the FBI who were pushing to keep this memo classified. The number two at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, also went about to keep the memo classified. He's already been the target of some of the president's ire about the Russia investigation, right?

JOHNSON: Yeah. We know that the president has been privately and sometimes publicly blaming the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for the Russia investigation, which of course has plagued his presidency almost from the get go. Rosenstein is the man who oversees this Mueller probe. He oversees the budget and the scope, and getting rid of Rod Rosenstein would be one way for the White House to disrupt or rein in the special counsel. Rod Rosenstein's a Justice Department lifer, nearly 28 years inside the Department. He's not going to go easily, his friends say. He's prepared for the stresses of the job, and he's put his head down and is going to continue to keep doing his job.

MARTIN: Does that - I'm sorry to interrupt. Does that mean we expect this memo to implicate Rosenstein in some way? It's possible. There are rumors from inside the White House, and even Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are warning this memo may be a way to give the White House a reason to try to get rid of Rosenstein.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, there have been developments in the actual Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Get us up to speed.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Just last night, some news. It involves the right-hand man to Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman. The lawyers for Rick Gates, who was charged alongside Manafort with conspiracy and money laundering, have withdrawn from the case. The reasons are under seal. There's a gag order so they couldn't tell me why. But we have some hints. Rick Gates, who has a young family and some money trouble, may be working out a plea deal with the special counsel. That would be significant because he was deeply involved in the campaign. Gates also worked on the inauguration, and he also visited the White House a fair amount before he was charged last year with crimes.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.