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House Intelligence Committee votes to release Nunes memo on FBI, DOJ

Last Updated Jan 29, 2018 11:50 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- Members of the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Monday to make public a four-page classified memo about alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI that targeted members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. In the same meeting, the committee voted against publicly releasing a memo drafted by the minority and intended as a rebuttal to the majority's document, which was written by Chairman Devin Nunes' staff with input from Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina.

For now, the minority's memo will be made accessible to all members of the House in the committee's secure spaces. Republicans on the committee have said they would revisit making the minority's memo fully public in the coming weeks.

In a statement following the committee's meeting, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said, "I think we have crossed a deeply regrettable line in this committee," adding, "there was a vote to politicize the declassification process of intelligence, and potentially compromise sources and methods."

The partisan nature of the vote, Schiff said, "... does show how, in my view, when you have a deeply flawed person in the Oval Office, that flaw can infect the whole of government. And today, tragically, it infected our committee."

Schiff also said Republicans on the committee had opened an investigation into the FBI and the Justice Department, which he said was revealed to minority members for the first time Monday. Republican members disputed Schiff's characterization, saying the probe is part of the committee's ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"As I see it we're investigating the 2016 election and that includes the conduct of the FBI as to how that investigation began," said Rep. Peter King, R-New York.

Schiff told reporters after a committee meeting Monday that the unstated purpose of the investigation was to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Schiff said that it didn't seem likely that the Justice Department or the FBI would be able to vet the majority's memo before its release.

"The conclusion is precooked," Schiff told reporters. He said he proposed a motion during Monday's committee meeting that would have allowed the DOJ and FBI to see the contents of the memo before its release, and the motion was voted down.

He also said that he had spoken to FBI Director Christopher Wray earlier Monday, and Wray expressed "strong interest" in briefing the committee on concerns that he might have about the release of the GOP's memo. Schiff said that Republicans on the committee were not willing to meet with the FBI to hear the bureau's concerns and called it a "very sad day in the history of this committee."

Committee Republicans called the motion for a DOJ briefing a delay tactic. "Wray met with Nunes and Gowdy yesterday and we sent two people from our staff, professionals, down to meet with their top people on their staff and we're satisfied that all national security concerns are addressed," said King. "The FBI may not like it, but that has nothing to do with national security."

Gowdy told reporters he lobbied Nunes "really hard" to let the FBI look at the memo in advance of its release. "It was really important to me to give them a chance to look at it for factual errors, national security concerns and source and methods," Gowdy said. "I actually lobbied him to let DOJ look at it too but it wasn't successful."

Wray was able to view the GOP-authored memo over the weekend, CBS News' Paula Reid confirmed. Fox News first reported he had seen the memo.

The majority's memo is said to contain evidence that the FBI relied on an unverified dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to wrongly secure surveillance warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Democrats on the committee say the majority's memo amounts to "Republican spin" and selectively uses classified information to undermine the work of Mueller's office.

In an interview with reporters after the vote, Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, said the majority's memo "... does damage to national security because it has not been reviewed by the DOJ and FBI. Whether or not specific sources or methods are compromised, to begin to release classified info without that filter is in and of itself damaging to sources and methods because going forward people are going to hold back, wonder, question," Heck said. "So it's the first ever -- and it's the worst possible -- precedent."

At least some of the details in the majority's memo are said to be based on intelligence that is so highly classified that it is considered "Gang of Eight" material, available to only a select few congressional leaders.

It is unclear whether there is a willingness on the part of the committee to release any or all of the classified, underlying intelligence on which both memos are based.

Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Francis Rooney, R-Florida, both said discussions of releasing additional intelligence hadn't yet begun. "I'll let you read the memo and you will see for yourself that it's not necessary," Conaway said. King, meanwhile, said, "if more has to be released we'll consider it, sure."

Heck pointed out that most members of the committee weren't permitted to see the underlying intelligence: "There are only two people on the committee who've read it. I'm not one of them," Heck said. "I wouldn't take a position on it not knowing the degree to which it might compromise sources and methods -- that would not be responsible."

While the dispute over publicly releasing the majority's memo is principally taking place between the committee and the Department of Justice, there may be reason for other intelligence agencies -- potentially including the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency -- to be concerned about an eventual public release. Sources say some of the intelligence underlying the memo is likely to have been contributed by agencies besides the FBI, suggesting they, too, will have a stake in whether the memo or its underlying intelligence becomes public.

On Monday, White House spokesman Raj Shah said nobody in the White House, including the president, had seen the majority's memo.

CNN reported that the memo was being couriered to the White House following the committee's vote. 

CBS News' Olivia Victoria Gazis and Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.