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White House Is Reviewing Democratic Memo That Responds To GOP Allegations


And now the slow-motion jujitsu between President Trump and congressional Democrats over the secret memo that is a rebuttal to the once-secret GOP memo that was released last week. That GOP memo alleges surveillance abuses by the FBI in the early days of the Russia investigation. NPR's Ryan Lucas is all over these memos, and he's here to tell us the latest. Hey, Ryan.


KELLY: All right, so the White House has had the Democratic memo, the one that we haven't seen. They've had it in hand since Monday evening. Where do things stand? Might we ever see it?

LUCAS: Well, when the House Intelligence Committee sent the memo to the White House late Monday, that triggered the five-day clock for the president to review the document. Remember; he can give it a thumbs up, thumbs down. If he objects to its release, the full House can vote to overrule him, but of course that would require Republican support. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed the president earlier this week on the memo. Rosenstein of course is also the man who's overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

KELLY: Sure.

LUCAS: White House chief of staff John Kelly says Rosenstein helped explain the differences between the Democratic memo and the Republican one. The Democratic memo at this moment is still undergoing a review by folks from the Justice Department, the FBI, a number of national security lawyers. Kelly has set a deadline of tonight to get their final assessment so that the president can then be briefed on it and make a final decision as to whether it should be released or not. If the answer is yes, the memo could be made public as soon as tomorrow.

Kelly says the Democratic memo isn't as clean as the GOP one, which is suggesting that it may face redactions. There weren't any redactions in the Republican one. Democrats say that any redactions that are made need to be explained by the White House or the Justice Department or FBI so that people know that it's not being done for political reasons as opposed to national security ones.

KELLY: Protecting classified information.

LUCAS: Right.

KELLY: Right, OK. I mean, worth reminding people the source of both these memos is the House Intelligence Committee.

LUCAS: Right.

KELLY: And I remember reporting on the House Intelligence Committee months ago and describing the atmosphere there as a partisan bar brawl.

LUCAS: Right.

KELLY: Has it gotten any better? I'm guessing not with these dueling memos making the rounds.

LUCAS: It definitely has not. And in theory, you know, this is supposed to be a committee where people leave their partisan concerns at the door. The focus is national security, overseeing U.S. intelligence agencies, putting the country's interests above, you know, petty partisan politics. The Russia investigation has blown all of that up. You can see that in a number of ways.

The most obvious one is that the committee members frequently attack each other over the investigation. They do this in the press. Republicans say Democrats are out to bring the president down. Democrats say Republicans refuse to conduct a serious investigation into Russian interference because they want to protect the president. There are even reports that the mood is so bad, trust is so low that there are plans to physically separate Republican and Democratic staff.

KELLY: To actually build a wall between the staff.

LUCAS: Right.

KELLY: Quite something - what about, meanwhile hanging over all of this, the other big Russia probe, special counsel Robert Mueller? How do the memos fit into that?

LUCAS: Well, Republicans say that this has nothing to do with Mueller. It's a separate issue. This is just about surveillance powers of the FBI. Trump has contradicted that. He says this has everything to do with the Mueller probe. He says that the GOP memo vindicated him, that there's no collusion with Russia. Democrats say that this is all about trying to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

KELLY: So watch this space. Ryan Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.