Just two days after House Speaker Paul Ryan publicly insisted that the GOP memo alleging surveillance abuses at the Justice Department was completely unrelated to the ongoing Russia investigation, a report emerged suggesting President Trump believes otherwise.
According to CNN, several sources familiar with White House discussions say Trump has been telling friends the controversial memo will “expose bias within the [FBI’s] top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigations are prejudiced against him.”
The report comes on the heels of Ryan’s comments to the press on Tuesday, during which he supported the House Intelligence Committee’s decision to release the memo to the public, against the intelligence community’s wishes.
“This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller’s investigation,” Ryan said, referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. “His investigation should be allowed to take its course.”
Privately, however, Trump has taken a much different route. According to CNN’s sources, Trump was “upset” on Wednesday after the FBI issued a statement citing concerns over the memo’s potential declassification. The bureau argued that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Trump, by contrast, wanted the memo made public.
As Trump prepares to release Nunes memo, his FBI – led by a director he appointed – issues a sharply worded public statement saying it has “grave concerns” about memo and says it is factually inaccurate pic.twitter.com/2AO9g7qBR2
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 31, 2018
The memo reportedly focuses on a spring 2017 surveillance warrant request for then-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The request was made by the Justice Department, which was operating under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who took office in April. Republicans argue that the memo proves the Justice Department overstepped its bounds in requesting such a warrant because it did so using faulty information collected by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, who was retained by research firm Fusion GPS, which had been hired by the DNC to do opposition research during the election. Fusion GPS had previously also agreed to do work for the conservative Washington Free Beacon during the GOP primary.
Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson has repeatedly claimed that the decision to launch the Russia investigation was not based on his firm’s research. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal also reported that Page was on the Justice Department’s radar for years prior to his work on the Trump campaign. Counterintelligence officials were reportedly concerned about his ties to several Russian groups and individuals, and as The New York Times reported on Sunday, “saw reason to believe that [Page] was acting as a Russian agent.” That suspicion was reportedly the basis for the Justice Department’s surveillance request.
However, as one source told CNN on Thursday, the president is “so frustrated with the Russia investigation” that he’s seeking “any opportunity to build a case for [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein’s firing,” including using the GOP memo to try and prove Rosenstein “failed to scrutinize the information initially used to request the warrant and therefore didn’t do his due diligence.” Discussions on the topic are reportedly “ongoing” at the White House, the source said.
It’s hardly the first time the president has attempted to interfere in Special Counsel Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation, which began handing out its first indictments last fall and has been gaining momentum since then.
Late last year, White House lawyer Ty Cobb and the president’s personal counsel, Jay Sekulow, lobbied for Congress to appoint a second special counsel to investigate Mueller and his team, which they claimed was biased against the president. Their arguments hinged on a series of texts between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who had worked on Mueller’s team. The texts were sent during the campaign in 2016 and were largely critical of then-candidate Trump. Strzok was dismissed from the investigation last summer after the texts came to light. Page had already completed her work on the probe by then.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that Strzok had co-written a draft of the controversial letter former FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress weeks prior to the 2016 election, re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Democrats have charged that the letter effectively turned the tide against Clinton at the last second, leading to her November 8 loss to Trump.
Trump also previously mulled the idea of firing Rosenstein altogether. In June 2017, Trump had reportedly become frustrated with the special counsel’s momentum and considered dismissing Rosenstein, who had appointed Mueller special counsel, as deputy attorney general. In the end, Trump changed course and turned his sights on Mueller himself, but backed off after White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to leave.