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Some Republicans uneasy with Trump releasing the Russia memo

by Jonathan Allen /  / Updated 

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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Many Republicans are clamoring to give the public a classified memo about intelligence collection in the Russia investigation.

But not all of them.

At least a handful of GOP lawmakers worry that its release could compromise intelligence-gathering and further enflame President Donald Trump's conflict with his own law-enforcement agencies.

"We run the risk of exposing some sensitive sources and methods," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said on the sidelines of a Republican retreat at the Greenbrier, a historic resort nestled at the edge of the Allegheny Mountains here. "I read the memos, both of them (Republican and Democratic), and I would rather not release them."

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, a proponent of making the memo public, acknowledged "there are some differing opinions" among House Republicans.

Trump is expected to sign off on the release of the controversial memo, drafted by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a senior White House official told reporters on Air Force One Thursday. It is unclear whether there will be any redactions of sensitive material.

On one level, the debate is over whether the American public should have access to information about whether FBI and Justice Department officials are following the rules when they ask for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

But it's also the latest flashpoint in the Russia probe, and Democrats have accused Nunes of politicizing intelligence work to assist Trump in discrediting the very law-enforcement agencies charged with investigating whether he or his aides illegally colluded with Russia or obstructed justice.

Those who argue it should be made public say it shows U.S. officials improperly used a dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele to justify their application for a warrant to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Trump's 2016 campaign.

Americans will "be troubled by its contents," Brady predicted. "Given the choice between being more open with the American public or less, we are opting for more."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appeared to caution all sides about reading too much into the memo's importance in the Russia investigation or Trump's ongoing fight with the leaders of the nation's top law-enforcement agencies.

"If mistakes were made and if individuals did something wrong, then it is our job as the legislative branch of government to conduct oversight over the executive branch if abuses were made," Ryan said at a press conference here. "What this is not, is an indictment on our institutions or our justice system...It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general."

But Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. and Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a joint statement that it would have those effects.

"President Trump should heed the warnings of the Justice Department and FBI, and reverse his reported decision to defy longstanding policies regarding the disclosure of classified information," they said. "The president’s apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts, politicizing Congress’ oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government."

Meanwhile, at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee in Washington, there was little chatter over the president's pending decision on whether to release a controversial memo.

Ginny Haines, the RNC committeewoman from New Jersey, maintained confidence in Trump's judgment in handling his skepticism of the intelligence community.

"I think the president will have it under control and knows exactly what needs to be done," Haines said, referring to employees within the intelligence community whom the president refers to as being a part of the "deep state." "He’ll take care of it. I trust him in this process," Haines said.

But Dent, a frequent critic of the president, said he was concerned about Trump's conflict with law-enforcement officials.

"I don't like the fact that the White House seems to be in a battle with its own Justice Department and FBI," he said.

And one of his colleagues, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Penn., reflected the unease lawmakers have with the potential for the memo to exacerbate that fight.

Asked whether it concerned him, Shuster quickly answered "yes" and then ducked behind a curtain partitioning reporters from lawmakers.

Meanwhile, AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Ryan, told NBC News late Thursday that he supports releasing a Democratic counter memo that addresses the Nunes memo.

“The speaker is in favor of greater transparency,” Strong said. “If it is scrubbed to ensure it does not reveal sources and methods of our intelligence gathering, the speaker supports the release of the Democrats' memo.”

CORRECTION (Feb 1, 2018, 11:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a senator from Delaware. His name is Chris Coons, not Jeff Coons.

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