The House Intelligence Committee voted late Monday to release a four-page memo penned by the staff of Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and summarizing classified intelligence that GOP members say shows that the FBI misled the FISA court in gaining permission to surveil members of President Trump's circle as part of its investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election and potential collusion between members of Donald Trump's election team and the nation-state's operatives.
The committee also voted Monday to block the release of a 10-page memo from committee Democrats that lays out intelligence refuting contentions in the Nunes document. The Justice Department in a letter to Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, had asked that the committee not release the memo, which it referred to as “extraordinarily reckless,” until its analysts had a chance to review and redact any information that might reveal the identity of operatives or details on methodologies used to surveil and gather data.
Accusations that investigators abused its surveillance authority center around spying on former Trump adviser Carter Page, who has been under surveillance since a 2014 probe into a Russian spy ring operating out of New York identified him as an unwitting and who became a figure of interest in the FBI's Russia collusion investigation. While the FISA order authorizing continued surveillance of Carter was renewed every few months through last year, the president's supporters have contended that investigators, led by fired FBI Director James Comey, used information from the controversial Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele to justify continued surveillance of Page without properly informing the FISA court that the information had come from a source paid to do oppositional research on Trump by associates of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The FISA court has long been a flashpoint for government watchdogs, rights groups - and tech firms beholden to court orders to produce private information on their customers under investigation - who claim its secret goings-on make it a prime target for government abuse.
Nunes, who recused himself from the Russian probe after being slapped with an ethics complaint and who reportedly hasn't read the intelligence underlying the memo, has drawn equally stiff criticism from detractors who see his push to release the memo as an attempt to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference and potential collusion.
Saying the committee had "crossed a deeply regrettable line” with its Monday vote, Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., contended, "Today this committee voted to put the president's personal interests, perhaps their own political interest, above the national interest."
Schiff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., recently petitioned Facebook and Twitter to provide information on the use of Russian bots to drive a #ReleasetheMemo campaign on social media.
The president had pressed the House committee to publish the Nunes memo and Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelley reportedly contacted officials at the Justice Department to express Trump's displeasure with their stance on the memo's release. Now that the committee has cast its vote, the decision to make the memo public lies with the president, who must do so within five days. The White House has said it will backburner the issue until after Trump's Tuesday State of the Union speech.