Christopher Wray's open conflict with the President risks infuriating a chief executive who expects loyalty

Christopher Wray's open conflict with the President risks infuriating a chief executive who expects loyalty

Now’s he’s getting close to the point of no return with his replacement.
The bureau’s public call for the White House to halt publication of a Republican memo condemning its conduct in the Russia investigation puts FBI Director Christopher Wray in open conflict with the President — and his job on the line.
The statement expressing “grave concerns” about the release of the memo, possibly as soon as Thursday, was more significant than the usual wrangling inside the US government over the release of intelligence material.
It represented a strong statement of independence from Wray, and a firm defense of his bureau that comes at the risk of infuriating the President, who has a record of demanding personal loyalty from top intelligence officials.
“He is putting his job before loyalty to the President,” former US Attorney Preet Bharara told CNN, outlining a scenario that has often not ended well for top officials in the law enforcement community during the Trump administration.
FBI chief has 'grave concerns,' clashes with Trump over GOP memo
But the showdown is about more than a memo — it is a symptom of the intense crisis of trust between Trump and his own intelligence agencies, even those led by his own appointees. It is playing out against a coordinated attempt by the President and allies to discredit the Russia investigation. And ultimately, this latest tussle is rooted in the President’s expressed belief that a “deep state” cabal in US spy and law enforcement agencies is conspiring against him in order to invalidate his 2016 election win.
The FBI is concerned that the memo, produced by Trump ally Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is inaccurate, distorts facts and could compromise classified intelligence.
“Not only do they have those concerns, but that they are stating them publicly, I guess in a manner in defiance of the President, is not something I have seen before,” said Bharara, who is now a CNN commentator.
But Trump appears determined to release the memo, apparently hoping it will help to discredit the investigation against him and his 2016 campaign being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
White House postures over Nunes memo
The confrontation between the White House and Wray escalated on another frenzied day in Washington, when revelations from the Russia probe and ominous signs of a building crisis over its outcome seem to come by the hour.
CNN reported that Trump asked another appointee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in December where the Russia investigation — which he oversees — was heading, and whether he was “on my team.”
The incident appeared to be yet another occasion when Trump may have crossed traditional firewalls between the White House and the FBI designed to shield the agencies from accusations of political interference.
Fired FBI chief James Comey testified last year that Trump asked him for a loyalty pledge. The President also asked former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who resigned this week, who he had voted for in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported last week.
Wednesday’s events thickened the plot surrounding Mueller’s probe, which is examining whether Trump obstructed justice in his firing of Comey and whether his campaign team colluded with Russia’s meddling in the election.
The revelations appeared to add new anecdotal evidence to suspicions that the White House and allies on Capitol Hill are politicizing intelligence and crushing long established norms in order to protect the President.
Washington is on tenterhooks for the release of the Nunes memo, which Republicans say shows a dossier about Trump and Russia written by a former British intelligence agent was misused to secure a surveillance warrant for former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
Trump told a lawmaker after the State of the Union address Tuesday that he would “100%” release the memo. Chief of staff John Kelly said on Fox News Radio it would be released “pretty quick.” White House officials told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that the memo could be out as early as Thursday. But it was unclear if the FBI’s vehement public objection, following personal appeals to top White House staff by Wray and Rosenstein would change minds in the West Wing. Former CIA director James Woolsey told CNN Wednesday that it was possible the showdown could be defused by making redactions to the document.
The memo, however, has become such a political cause celebrate among conservatives that it would be extraordinarily difficult politically for Trump to back down, even if he cites national security concerns.
In a statement, the FBI said it has grave concerns about “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Democrats say the GOP selectively used intelligence to misrepresent how the dossier was used and to cast the FBI in a bad light.
Nunes pushed back, saying that it was not surprising that the FBI and the Justice Department were raising “spurious” objections to letting the American people know the truth about their surveillance “abuses.”
Other Republicans insisted the memo would demonstrate there was serious wrongdoing at the FBI and the Department of Justice that the public needed to see.
“It is going to show FISA abuse took place and there was misconduct at the highest levels of both agencies,” New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.
The alliance between Nunes and Trump raises the question of whether the House committee, under a chairman who played a key role on the transition team, has now ceded its oversight role and become a tool in the political attacks on the FBI by the President.
Nunes was already a controversial figure because he dropped a bombshell last year by claiming that Trump campaign officials had been swept up in surveillance by US intelligence agencies and rushed to brief Trump.
In a bizarre twist, it only emerged later that he actually got the information in the first place from Trump aides, raising questions over whether he was taking part in an elaborate plot to discredit the FBI investigation.
“It almost seems like the chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence acts as an agent of the White House,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday.
But Nunes is not acting alone. On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was once often critical of Trump but has emerged as an important ally, said he backed putting out the memo.
Questions about the motives of the White House and Nunes were bolstered on Wednesday with the release of a transcript of a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Republican memo.
In one exchange, Nunes hedged when asked by Democratic member Mike Quigley whether his staff wrote the memo with conversations or consultations with anyone at the White House.
“I would just answer, as far as I know, no,” Nunes replied.
However the showdown turns out, it is certain to further strain relations between Trump and intelligence and judicial authorities.
“This is about a unique experience when a Republican president and a Republican congressmen, tell us that a Republican Department of Justice and a Republican FBI are are actually representative of the deep state,” said Phil Mudd, a former CIA and FBI official who is now a CNN commentator.
“It is us versus them and the President has said, ‘if you don’t believe in me, you are off the team.'”

Published at Thu, 01 Feb 2018 07:06:04 +0000

Schiff says Nunes altered memo before sending to WH

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.
FBI chief has 'grave concerns,' clashes with Trump over GOP memo
“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.

Published at Thu, 01 Feb 2018 05:29:54 +0000