Trump Preparing To Sign Off On Release Of Controversial GOP Memo

Feb 1, 2018
Originally published on February 1, 2018 4:55 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The controversial Republican memo alleging that the FBI abused its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation could be made public tomorrow. The debate over whether to release the four-page classified document has pitted President Trump against his own FBI director, Christopher Wray. And it has prompted angry charges from Democrats that the White House and its Republican allies are trying to undermine the FBI and, by association, undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House. Hello again, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hello there.

KELLY: So where do things stand? President Trump was supposed to review this memo and decide whether or not he wanted to sign off on it being released. What's the latest?

LIASSON: We know the president has read the memo. A senior administration official - senior White House official says the president is expected to tell Congress probably tomorrow that he's OK with releasing it. All the president has to do is decide whether he would block its release. Then it will be up to Congress to release it. The White House says it's been going through a process where they're working with national security officials and legal officials to address concerns about classified secrets that were raised by the FBI. As you know, FBI director Chris Wray opposed the memo's release.

KELLY: Yeah.

LIASSON: He said the FBI had, quote, "grave concerns" that there were things left out of the memo that made it inaccurate.

KELLY: When you say the White House has been going through a process, how much of a process? And I ask because the president was caught on mike after the State of the Union address. That was Tuesday. He was asked about the release, and he said, 100 percent, yes, I'm going to let it be released.

LIASSON: Right. It seemed that he had already made up his mind. But because of this conflict with the FBI, the White House has been trying to go to great lengths to show that they are weighing the FBI's concerns. That said, senior White House official said today he doubted there would be any more redactions, and then it will be in Congress's hands.

Now, as far as Congress goes, House Speaker Paul Ryan was at that Republican lawmaker retreat in West Virginia today. He tried to make the case that this memo is legitimate, not a partisan effort to taint the investigation as Democrats have charged. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: Let me tell you what this memo is and what this memo is not. What this memo is is Congress doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight over a very unique law, FISA.

LIASSON: What he went on to say that this memo is not is an indictment of our institutions, of our justice system. He said the memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice, doesn't impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general. The fact that he had to say any of those things at all just underscores how extraordinary this is. This is the president in open conflict with his handpicked FBI director, a Republican, his handpicked deputy attorney general.

And this is all over an investigation that seems to be getting closer and closer to the president himself. And I am told that the president himself has told his friends that he thinks this memo will help him prove his argument that the investigation is a witch hunt.

KELLY: Now, another potential plot twist in the wings, which is there's some reporting today that Chris Wray - FBI Director Wray may quit over this. What are you hearing?

LIASSON: I have not gotten any indication from any White House official that Wray has threatened to resign or that he's communicated that threat to the White House. Obviously Wray is frustrated. We can see that in his public statements.

KELLY: Yeah.

LIASSON: That being said, I'm also told that if Chris Wray did end up resigning, the president's supporters feel that would be very bad politically for him.

KELLY: And what about the president himself? Aside from that hot mike moment after the State of the Union, has he weighed in?

LIASSON: He has been under wraps on this. He hasn't weighed in. He had a couple opportunities today to engage with reporters. Instead he just walked away - very unusual for him. He hasn't tweeted about this. He's tweeted about his State of the Union address. But instead, he went up to West Virginia today to speak to Republicans, and he talked about his agenda, items like immigration and infrastructure.

KELLY: The president on-message - and that's NPR's Mara Liasson reporting from the White House. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.