Former FBI Director James Comey is in deep trouble — and he could have just hours left to breath. Thursday, the hammer of justice may finally come down on him and the alleged anti-Trump (and pro-Hillary Clinton) agents in the FBI.
In a remarkably public clash of wills with the White House, the FBI declared Wednesday it has “grave concerns” about the release of a secret memo on the Russia election investigation that President Donald Trump wants released.
The FBI’s panicked public statement, its first on the issue, laid bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out mostly behind closed doors in meetings between top Justice Department and White House officials.
“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said.
In other words, the memo’s release will make the FBI’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election look very, very bad. If it shows the bureau under Comey acted illegally against Trump — and in favor of Hillary — it could even lead to calls for the former FBI director’s arrest.
Further complicating the memo’s release, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee said late Wednesday that his committee’s vote to release the memo was now invalid because there were minor grammatical changes by the Republicans who wrote it. California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that committee Democrats had discovered minor edits that were made after the panel voted Monday to send it to Trump for review.
“The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release,” Schiff said in the letter.
A spokesman for Nunes said the changes were “minor edits to the memo, including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by [Democrats] themselves.”
Jack Langer said the committee vote was “procedurally sound,” and “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.”
Trump himself already has urged the release, and it is widely expected to be made public early Thursday.
The memo is part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the early stages of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The FBI’s stance on the memo escalates the dispute and means Trump would be openly defying his hand-picked FBI director by continuing to push for its disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.
The FBI statement came the day after Trump was overheard telling a congressman that he “100 percent” supported release of the four-page memo.
Earlier this week, Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a direct appeal to White House chief of staff John Kelly not to release the memo, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.
But the president has been undeterred.
Television cameras captured Trump, on the House floor after the State of the Union address, telling South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan that he backed the release. When Duncan implored him to “release the memo,” Trump said: “Oh yeah, don’t worry. 100 percent.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN Wednesday that a legal and national security review of the document was continuing. Trump had not read the memo “as of last night prior to and immediately after the State of the Union,” she said.
White House chief of staff Kelly said Wednesday on Fox News Radio that he expected the memo to be released “pretty quick.”
Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the memo will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department had conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his belief that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nunes fired back at the law enforcement agencies, calling the FBI and Justice Department objections “spurious.”
“It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign,” Nunes said. “Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
The White House counsel’s office has been in possession of the memo, officials say. The National Security Council is leading a review, which will also involve the White House legal team.
The vote to release the memo was unprecedented in the committee’s history, indicating it’s severity. The panel usually goes out of its way to protect classified information in the interest of shielding intelligence sources and methods.
In the hours before the Monday vote, Rosenstein and Wray warned Kelly that releasing the memo could set a dangerous precedent, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Rosenstein also told Kelly the memo didn’t accurately characterize the FBI’s investigative practices, the person said.
The Justice Department had said in a letter last week that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without first giving the FBI and the department the chance to review it.
After those complaints, Wray reviewed the memo over the weekend. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who was with him when he reviewed the memo, said the FBI director did not raise any national security concerns.