President Donald Trump approved the release of a confidential Republican memo Thursday, according to The New York Times. Few people have actually seen it, but that hasn't stopped the three-and-a-half page document from dividing Congress and pitting the White House against the FBI and the Department of Justice.
But what exactly does the mysterious memo say? And why are both parties playing a game of tug-of-war over the circumstances of its release?
Here's what you need to know.
What Is It?
The memo is a classified report written by Republican congressional staffers led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) accusing the FBI of abusing its surveillance authorities.
According to The Times, people familiar with the memo say it involves reports that FBI and Justice Department officials acted inappropriately when seeking a warrant to spy on Carter Page, one of Donald Trump's campaign advisers.
It claims that federal law enforcement officials misled a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge by failing to explain that the information gathered on Page by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, was funded by Democrats.
After House Republicans voted to declassify the memo, President Trump had five days to review the document for national security concerns. On Thursday, he reportedly cleared it for release, pending a vote by the House Intelligence Committee, which will ultimately decide if the memo will be made available to the public.
Why Does It Matter, and What Are the Major Arguments?
Over the course of the past week, the “secret” Republican memo has been met with a firestorm of criticism from one side and an equal swell of justification for its release from the other. Both parties have their reasons for arguing about what's important in the memo.
The main arguments surrounding the issue can be broken down like this:
Congressional Democrats: Democratic leaders in the House have argued the memo is just a collection of Republican talking points designed to bolster the president's position in the Russia investigation by casting doubt on the credibility of the intelligence community.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has led the charge in condemning Republican efforts to release the memo. He has also claimed Nunes made changes to the memo before presenting it to the president that were not approved by the Intelligence Committee.
The FBI and the Justice Department: On Wednesday, the FBI released a rare statement opposing the release of the memo, citing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.”
National security officials have voiced concern that releasing the memo could compromise sensitive government information such as methods to gather intelligence. As a result, the FBI has requested that certain details in the memo be redacted in order to protect national security.
The White House: President Trump has reportedly expressed confidence in the memo, arguing it makes the credible case that law enforcement officials overstepped surveillance guidelines when seeking a warrant to spy on Page.
According to CNN, Trump also believes the memo will help to discredit the Russia investigation and expose bias in the FBI that would validate his characterization of the investigation as a “witch hunt.”
The Times reported Trump made the decision to approve the memo's release quickly, handing it over to the House Intelligence Committee for a final vote before it is made public.
Congressional Republicans: Led by Nunes, Republicans in the House have mostly argued in favor of releasing the memo. They argue the memo includes critical information concerning inappropriate surveillance methods used by the FBI, which the public has a right to know.
Nunes has called the FBI's comments opposing the document's release “spurious objections,” and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended Nunes by saying the memo isn't an attack on the FBI or the Justice Department and that it doesn't seek to undermine the Russia investigation.
What Are People Saying?
There's been no shortage of comments from congressional leaders, intelligence officials and others about the memo. Here's what some of them are saying:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have sent letters to Ryan asking that Nunes be removed as the Intelligence Committee's chairman.
“Congressman Nunes’ deliberately dishonest actions make him unfit to serve as Chairman, and he must be removed immediately from this position,” Pelosi said, adding, “the integrity of the House is at stake.”
Schumer wrote that the document in question was nothing more than “a conspiracy-themed memo that selectively cherry-picks classified information.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan called out the partisan politics at the root of the debate. "I never witnessed the type of reckless partisan behavior I am now seeing from Nunes and House Republicans," he tweeted. "Absence of moral and ethical leadership in [the White House] is fueling this government crisis.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) was one of the few Republicans to voice cautious opposition to the release of the memo, according to The Times. “They need to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about what this, you know, how this bears on our national security,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, responding to the statement from the FBI, Nunes rejected the opposition to his memo. “The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts,” Nunes said, “and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses.”