WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump told a member of Congress on Tuesday night that he would "100 percent" allow the public release of a GOP-drafted memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Department of Justice, effectively ending speculation about whether he would back the campaign to declassify the document.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., approached Trump as he exited the House chamber following the State the Union address, and asked him to "release the memo."
"Don't worry, 100 percent," Trump responded, with a wave of his hand.
The exchange was caught by television cameras filming the president after he delivered the address. The president's comments also come as Congress is sharply divided over the fate of the Republican-written memo, which the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release to the public. Trump has up to five days to block their plans, though with his endorsement, once official, lawmakers can move quickly to make the document public. Republicans support its release, but Democrats are opposed.
A White House spokesman confirmed early Wednesday that the administration's official position is now that Trump will release the memo.
The memo deals primarily with the role that intelligence passed along to the FBI by British ex-spy Christopher Steele played in efforts to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, according to people familiar with the four-page document. The memo suggests that Steele, the author of a now-famous dossier alleging Trump has ties to Russian officials, provided bad information to the FBI – although people familiar with it say the memo does not conclude whether Steele intentionally passed along suspect information or simply made a mistake. Steele's dossier work was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Trump has denied the allegations in it.
Democrats have charged that the GOP memo is a thinly veiled attempt to cast doubt on the underpinnings of special counsel Robert Mueller III's Russia probe, as well as the federal law enforcement agencies behind it. Those on the House Intelligence Committee have prepared a rebuttal memo of their own, which the panel voted Monday to make available to members, but not release publicly.
Republican leaders have defended the decision to release their party's memo, citing a process that puts their document, which has been out for almost two weeks, ahead of the Democrats' document. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday that the memo is an effort to determine if "there may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals" and to get the FBI and the Justice Department to "clean their own house."
He stressed that the memo should not interfere with Mueller's probe, or compromise Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees that investigation, in any way.