President Donald Trump continues to tell his associates he believes the highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools could help discredit the Russia investigation, multiple sources familiar with White House discussions said.
In recent phone calls, Trump has told friends he believes the memo would expose bias within the agency’s top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigations are prejudiced against him, according to two sources.
As the debate rages about whether the GOP memo is inaccurate and misleading — and whether it’s appropriate to reveal such classified intelligence at all — Trump appears to be more preoccupied with the political calculus. He views the memo as proof the intelligence community was unfairly targeting him and fodder for his ultimate goal of bringing an end to the Russia investigation that he has dubbed a “witch hunt,” sources said.
Trump himself reviewed and read the memo on Wednesday, White House officials told CNN, and discussed it with chief of staff John Kelly and the White House counsel’s office.
Ahead of its public release, it wasn’t clear what precise steps — if any — the White House or Congress was taking to ease the concerns of the FBI and intelligence officials over the memo’s content.
Before the House Intelligence Committee sent the memo to the White House, the panel made certain changes to the document, though Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ on the number and substance of their alterations. Democrats say there were five changes, while Republicans insist there were only two.
A source familiar with the process of reviewing the memo said “accommodations” were made in response to concerns aired over the past two days, though the source indicated the steps weren’t initiated by the White House. Another senior administration official told CNN on Thursday morning the White House approved several redactions to the memo on national security grounds.
Later in the day, however, a separate White House official told reporters aboard Air Force One that the memo would likely be made public with no redactions.
“We have had over the last couple days to look at it to make sure it doesn’t give away too much in terms of classification,” the official said as Trump was returning from West Virginia, where he addressed GOP lawmakers. “Right now, I think it will be that we tell the Congress, probably tomorrow, that the President is OK with it.
“I doubt there will be any redactions,” the official said. “Then it is in Congress’ hands after that.”
A senior administration official said the White House has so far rejected the FBI and Justice Department’s requests for redactions that the White House believes are meant to conceal information that might be embarrassing to the agency.
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah denied that the purpose of releasing the memo was to undermine the Mueller probe and insisted that the White House is simply playing their role in a process initiated by Congress.
“No, the purpose is transparency,” Shah said, when asked by CNN about the effect on the Mueller investigation. “This is a legislative process, they have initiated it. We are only following through on our role throughout the House rules.”
Shah would not say if the President has made a decision.
“We’re committee to this process. He’s going to take input from both legal and national security voices,” Shah said. “When he makes a decision, we’ll make it public.”
The President continues to seethe over the Justice Department’s handling of nearly everything Russia-related, sources said. Recently, much of that anger has been directed toward his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller and the Russia investigation.
But on Wednesday Trump was also upset in the wake of the FBI’s statement challenging the release of the controversial memo crafted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump ally.
The FBI’s harshly worded statement was a rare public rebuke, all the more stinging now that the bureau is led by Director Chris Wray, who Trump handpicked after he fired James Comey last May.
In condemning the four-page memo that alleges surveillance abuses on behalf of the FBI and Justice Department, the FBI said, “we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
This follows a Justice Department statement that warned releasing the memo “would be extraordinarily reckless.”
The FBI’s statement was issued just hours after the President made clear he wanted the document public.
White House aides and advisers expect a decision from Trump on whether to release the controversial memo on Thursday, an official tells CNN, but the President has already made clear he is inclined to approve the document’s release.
People familiar with the President’s thinking say the fate of Rosenstein remains in question amid the expected release of the Nunes memo.
One person suggested if Rosenstein merely submitted an application to renew a FISA warrant (one granted under previous leadership and based, in part, on information from the infamous Steele dossier) that probably wouldn’t be a damning enough revelation for Trump to move to fire Rosenstein.
But another person said Trump is so frustrated with the Russia investigation and, in turn, Rosenstein that he may look for any opportunity to build a case for Rosenstein’s firing. He could argue that Rosenstein failed to scrutinize the information initially used to request the warrant and therefore didn’t do his due diligence.
These discussions are ongoing within the White House, one of the sources said.
Another source familiar with White House discussions said they would be “stunned” if anything happens to Rosenstein even though he’s not a Trump favorite.
As CNN has previously reported, the President has vented recently about wanting to fire Rosenstein. But for now, it remains unclear whether he’s willing to take such an extraordinary step, particularly given the backlash he faced after dismissing Comey.
Trump’s top aides have been posturing on the memo ever since the committee voted to approve the document’s release on Monday. Officials have been unable to say whether anyone inside the White House worked with Nunes or House Republicans on the document.
After the House committee voted down party lines to release the document, the memo was couriered to the White House on Monday evening and an interagency review process began on the contents of the controversial memo.
That review — led by the White House counsel’s office and coordinated by the National Security Council — is ongoing, the official said.
Republicans, especially those closely aligned with Trump in the House, have argued the memo must be released because it details abuse of power by law enforcement officials. But Democrats have said that memo is nothing more than an attempt by Nunes — who was a member of the executive committee leading Trump presidential transition team — and other Republicans to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.