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Nunes dismisses FBI's 'spurious objections' over memo

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz reports on FBI's rare public warning.

Posted: Feb 1, 2018 11:11 PM
Updated: Feb 1, 2018 11:11 PM

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff is accusing chairman Devin Nunes of sending a different version of the memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses to the White House than what the committee approved.

In a letter to Nunes, Schiff said that his staff discovered Wednesday evening that the memo sent to the White House was "materially different" than the version on which the committee voted.

The White House is currently reviewing the four-page classified memo after the committee voted on Monday night to make it public.

"It is now imperative that the Committee Majority immediately withdraw the document that it sent to the White House," Schiff wrote. "If the Majority remains intent on releasing its document to the public, despite repeated warnings from DOJ and the FBI, it must hold a new vote to release to the public its modified document."

A spokesman for Nunes responded to Schiff's letter by calling it an "increasingly strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo," saying changes were made that were "minor edits to the memo, including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by the Minority themselves."

"The vote to release the memo was absolutely procedurally sound, and in accordance with House and Committee rules," Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said. "To suggest otherwise is a bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo, which the public will hopefully soon be able to read for themselves."

But senior Democratic committee official disputed that characterization of the alterations to the memo and said they did not resolve the factual problems that have been raised by the FBI or Justice Department.

"The changes are not cosmetic and almost all of them are unrelated to concerns about sensitive information. Instead, they try to water down some of the Majority's assertions," the official said. "While the Minority has continually pointed out flaws in the majority document, we have not requested any changes because we feel the whole document is fundamentally flawed."

Earlier Wednesday, a transcript of the meeting where House Intelligence Committee Republicans voted to release their memo was released, which showed Nunes playing hardball with Democratic efforts to delay the vote and refusing to say if the White House had any involvement in his efforts.

In the transcript, Nunes clashed with Democrats over whether his staff was talking to the White House about the memo. The hour-long meeting Monday broke sharply along partisan lines, with even one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, joining Nunes in voting down Democratic motions, including to allow the Justice Department and FBI to review the classified four-page memo and brief their panel before its release.

Schiff said he had spoken to FBI Director Chris Wray about his concerns with the document -- which alleges abuses of the FISA law connected with obtaining a surveillance warrant on a member of Trump's campaign team -- but Nunes rejected the motion.

"I would say to the gentleman that the Department of Justice and the FBI have been under investigation by this committee for many, many months for FISA abuse and other matters," Nunes said. "That investigation continues. And I would urge my colleagues to vote no, we are not going to be briefed by people that are under investigation by this committee."

The committee's dispute with the FBI escalated on Wednesday as the bureau issued a statement expressing "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

Nunes responded Wednesday in a statement dismissing their "spurious objections" to the memo. But the same fight was already playing out behind closed doors on Monday. At the meeting, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California asked Nunes what the FBI had told him about releasing the memo publicly.

"Our goal as to make sure that we were not going to disclose any issues of national security, and we believe we have met that threshold," Nunes said.

Democrats warned Republicans they were playing with fire by voting to invoke a never-before-used committee rule to bypass the declassification process to make the memo public.

"Believe me, if it turns out that the majority memo is wrong, there will be hell to pay," said Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat.

Nunes and the committee's Democrats clashed over whether there was a formal committee investigation of the Justice Department and FBI, and both Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois and Schiff demanded to know why Democrats were not informed about the investigation. Under committee rules, the minority party is required to be consulted under the rules when launching an investigation.

"It is one thing to subpoena government officials for information as part of an investigation. It is another to say that those very entities are under investigation," Schiff argued. "So this is a revelation for us."

Nunes said the committee issued several subpoenas opposed by Democrats, and told Quigley "every member of this House can conduct (investigations) -- you have always had my strong support to investigate, review anything under our jurisdiction."

Nunes and Quigley also had a heated exchange in which Quigley pressed whether Nunes had "conversations or consultations with anyone in the White House" about the memo.

"I would just answer, as far as I know, no," Nunes responded.

Quigley then pushed about whether any of Nunes staff consulted with the White House, which prompted Nunes to say: "The chair is not going to entertain ... a question by another member."

"Does that mean just questions you don't like or questions in general, sir?" Quigley shot back.

Nunes ignored the question and moved onto the next member.

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