During an interview with CNN’s New Day on Tuesday, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway dodged when asked about a memo being circulated by congressional Republicans, which they claim shows corruption at the highest levels of the Justice Department.
The memo itself, which allegedly details surveillance abuses and which Republicans have called “shocking” and “worse than Watergate,” has been highly criticized by the few Democrats who have seen it. Many have blasted it as cherry-picked, saying it omits important information in an attempt to paint the Justice Department — which is spearheading the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials — in a nefarious light.
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the memo to the public, giving President Trump five days to review it and decide whether to keep it secret. Tuesday morning, New Day host Chris Cuomo pressed Conway on the subject.
“Do you expect [the president] to take the full five days? Is there a chance we’ll hear something today, tomorrow?” he asked.
“That’s up to the president,” Conway responded. “We want it to be a deliberative process and we respect the process, the transparency and accountability. But [I] can’t really comment on the substance of the memo.”
Addressing any concern over Congress deciding to go above the intelligence community’s head in its decision to release the memo, Conway added, “I think there are concerns all the way around. That is one person’s opinion.”
Conway’s insistence that the White House remain silent on the memo’s contents, however, is in direct contrast with the majority of Republicans, who have continued to speak out about it at every given opportunity.
Conservatives like Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) have made appearances on Fox News’ Hannity in recent weeks, claiming that the memo proves Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is “a lie built on corruption” and “a palace coup.” Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Sean Duffy (R-WI), as well as the president’s own son, Donald Trump Jr., have pushed for the memo’s release on Twitter with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. In separate tweets, Meadows called the memo “absolutely shocking,” while Duffy claimed it was “very concerning.”
“It’s troubling. It is shocking,” Meadows added in an interview with Fox News in mid-January. “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”
Trump Jr. has been particularly aggressive with his tweets, suggesting that certain FBI agents should be fired and making unfounded claims about the timing of the memo and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe‘s decision to take leave ahead of his official retirement. On Tuesday, Trump Jr. retweeted a post by Daily Caller editor-in-chief Geoffrey Ingersoll, who suggested that the Obama administration was to blame for the Russia investigation because “Rogue Obama officials” had used a “phony” surveillance request detailed in the memo “to unmask Trump officials” later on.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) January 29, 2018
According to a report by The New York Times on Sunday, the contents of the memo are largely uncontroversial, and focus on a request by the FBI to extend surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. In November, Page testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he had contact with Russian officials during his time as a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign. Sources who spoke with the Times this week said the memo simply proved that Justice officials “saw reason to believe that [Page] was acting as a Russian agent” and decided to pursue that lead.
Republicans claim, however, that officials based their decision to request continued surveillance on research produced by former MI6 Officer Christopher Steele, who was retained by the research firm Fusion GPS to collect information for several clients, including the Democratic National Committee, and that Justice officials “failed to properly vet” the information before taking it before a judge.
The memo is only the latest instance of Republican efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, which Trump has repeatedly called a witch hunt. In addition to the surveillance request, conservatives have also targeted a series of texts between two former Mueller staffers, FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, which were sent in 2016 and were critical of Trump. Strzok was dismissed from the probe last summer after the texts first came to light. Page had already completed her work on the investigation by then.