Washington — Connecticut lawmakers are playing key roles in the turmoil over “the memo,” a document drafted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, and in efforts to protect special counsel Robert Mueller as he continues his investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to release the controversial memo, which alleges the FBI and Justice Department misused their authority to obtain a surveillance warrant for Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the 2016 presidential election.
A transcript of the closed-door debate over release of the memo, shows that Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, the panel’s second highest-ranking Democrat, laid out the dangers of releasing the document.
Himes said, “An immense amount of classified information will be available to the public.” He reminded his colleagues that the FBI and Justice Department considered the release of information “extraordinarily reckless.”
Himes also said he and most of the members of the panel had not reviewed “the underlying intelligence” the memo is based upon. Himes said the lawmakers were going to “jump off a cliff with without the ability to see what is there.”
“There is absolutely no way for any of us to game out what the outcome is three weeks from now when the press has done their thing, when the Justice Department and the FBI have made their arguments, about who gets tarred for being imprudent,” Himes said. “But it’s going to be someone.”
Himes warned his colleagues on the panel that “if the majority memo is wrong, there will be hell to pay.”
Intelligence Committee Democrats wrote a dissenting memo, and, Himes said, “If it turns out the minority memo is wrong, there will be hell to pay.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has sought an immediate release of the Republican memo, but has not indicated when he’d make the Democratic memo public.
To Nunes, the FBI used compromised information – in a dossier written by a former British intelligence agent and funded partially by a law firm on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign – to obtain a wiretapping warrant.
“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.
Democrats say Page, the target of that investigation, had been on the FBI’s radar for years because of his trips to Russia.
The majority memo has been sent to the White House for legal and national security experts to review the classified document.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said late Wednesday the White House had been sent a different version of the classified memo about the Trump-Russia investigation from the one that committee Republicans voted to release to the public.
The FBI, in a rare public statement, said on Wednesday that it has “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
On Thursday Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the 3rd highest ranking Republican in the Senate, said the Senate Intelligence Committee should be able to review the House Intelligence Committee memo before it is made public. Thune also said the counterpoint memo written by Democrats on the panel should be made public if the Republican version is released.
“Memogate” has deepened suspicions among Democrats, and a few Republicans, that the White House is ramping up its efforts to discredit, and perhaps fire, Mueller.
“It really has become gutter partisan politics in the way they are using this memo as a political weapon,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that is conducting its own investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. “The memo is being used as a tool to attack the FBI and the deputy attorney general (Rod Rosenstein) and potentially fire Mueller.”
Blumenthal also has said, “The release of this memo is really reminiscent of the darkest days of the McCarthy era.”
At a press conference in Hartford on Friday, Sen. Chris Murphy said “my worry is that this is all a buildup to a justification for firing Robert Mueller.”
“It looks like the groundwork is being set for Trump to take on the Mueller team,” Murphy said.
He called the memo “blatantly partisan” and “a complete fraud” and warned of the danger of “politicizing the FBI.”
Blumenthal has been at the forefront of an effort to protect Mueller from a White House firing while the special counsel conducts an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
Those calls were renewed in recent days after a New York Times report that Trump sought to fire Mueller last summer, but was stopped. President Donald Trump has often railed against the special counsel’s investigation, calling it a “hoax” and “witch hunt.”
Two bipartisan bills are pending in Congress that would seek to protect Mueller.
Both bills would empower a panel of federal judges to review the case for firing the special counsel and render a judgment about whether there was good cause to do so. One bill, sponsored by Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., would require the attorney general — or a deputy — to essentially ask for the judges’ permission to fire the special counsel. The other bill sponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., would allow the counsel to appeal a dismissal after the fact.
Blumenthal said lawmakers are merging the two bills into one. He also said he is seeking more GOP support for the effort.
“I am talking to a number of Republican colleagues, and I hope they will muster some backbone,” Blumenthal said.
The legislation that would protect Mueller from a firing must be reviewed and voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, then considered by the full Senate.
“We have a number of hurdles ahead,” Blumenthal conceded.
The legislation also must be approved by the U.S. House, where there is even less appetite for the bill.
“I don’t think there’s a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House majority leader, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Right now there’s not an issue. So why create one when there isn’t a place for it?” he said.
A recent Monmouth University Poll found 62 percent of Americans support requiring a panel of federal judges to approve Mueller’s firing.