Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, accused the panel's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., of altering a controversial memo sent to the White House for review — an assertion that wasn't denied but rather tempered with an argument that the changes were merely cosmetic or were edits requested by Democrats and the FBI.
"BREAKING: Discovered late tonight that Chairman Nunes made material changes to the memo he sent to White House – changes not approved by the Committee," Schiff said in a tweet late Wednesday. "White House therefore reviewing a document the Committee has not approved for release."
BREAKING: Discovered late tonight that Chairman Nunes made material changes to the memo he sent to White House – changes not approved by the Committee. White House therefore reviewing a document the Committee has not approved for release. pic.twitter.com/llhQK9L7l6— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 1, 2018
Schiff also shared a copy of a letter he sent to Nunes on Wednesday claiming that the Democrats on the committee learned that the classified memo shared by the committee majority with the White House did not feature the same content that House members had reviewed before voting to release it to the public earlier this week.
"After reviewing both versions, it is clear that the Majority made material change to the version it sent to the White House, which Committee Members never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved," the letter says. "This is deeply troubling because it means that the Committee Majority transmitted to the White House an altered version of its classified document that is materially different than the version on which the Committee voted. The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the Committee never approved for public release."
"While the Majority’s changes do not correct the profound distortions and inaccuracies in your document, they are nonetheless substantive," the letter continues. "The fact that the Majority found it necessary to make these changes without informing the Committee during the vote signifies that the Committee Majority no longer stands by the representation it has made to House Members in its original document and felt it necessary to deceive Committee Members during Monday’s vote, by withholding the fact that it planned to send a different document to the White House."
The letter from Schiff points out that that Nunes was specifically asked if the memo would be released to the public without any alterations or redactions and Nunes said the content would first be sent to the White House where Trump would have the discretion to release it to the public or not, according to a transcript released earlier in the day.
In a formal meeting, I asked Chairman Nunes not once, but twice, if his memo would be released precisely as we reviewed it. He said yes. Then altered it. pic.twitter.com/vWa1oFz9qX— Jim Himes (@jahimes) February 1, 2018
The transcript also show a back-and-forth exchange between Nunes and Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., about the the chairman's announcement of an investigation into the Justice Department and FBI. Quigley disputed that the Republican majority ever consulted with the Democratic minority about the investigations, while Nunes defended the move as one that shouldn't have been a surprise as the two agencies have “been under investigation by this committee for many, many months for FISA abuse and other matters.”
Schiff's letter called for the committee majority to retract the document that was submitted to the White House and vote again Monday on the modified document.
A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee conceded that small edits were made, but dismissed the minority party's complaints as an attempt to create a "bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo."
"In its increasingly strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo, the Committee Minority is now complaining about minor edits to the memo, including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by the Minority themselves," the spokesman said. "The vote to release the memo was absolutely procedurally sound, and in accordance with House and Committee rules. 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."
FBI Director Chris Wray visited Capitol Hill on Sunday and reviewed the document. The agency issued a rare public statement Wednesday, which warned it had “grave concerns” about the classified memo and said it includes "material omissions of fact."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also weighed in on the issue following Schiff's letter and called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to "put an end to this charade."
“It’s clear that Chairman Nunes will seemingly stop at nothing to undermine the rule of law and interfere with the Russia probe," Schumer said in a statement. "He’s been willing to carry the White House’s water, attack our law enforcement and intelligence officials, and now to mislead his House colleagues. If Speaker Ryan cares about the integrity of the House or the rule of law, he will put an end to this charade once and for all.”
Republicans say the memo, written by Nunes and staff, contains evidence of misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which could undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Reports have suggested the memo details how the FBI included false claims from "Trump dossier" author Christopher Steele about Trump associates' ties to Russia in an approved application to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but current and former law enforcement officials have said much more information was also used to justify the surveillance application. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former FBI Director James Comey, and outgoing FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe are all reportedly named in the memo.
With the memo being containing classified information, portions of it are expected to be redacted upon release.
On Monday, the Republican majority of the intelligence panel approved the public release of the controversial four-page report after it had been made available to the entire House, where it was viewable in a restricted area. The vote to make it public triggered a five-day period during which President Trump could choose to block its release.
Democrats have dismissed its contents as nothing more than "talking points" and have complained that the report, based on classified material from the Justice Department and FBI to which most members do not have access, is leading to a "false narrative" without the proper context. Among their concerns are that many of the lawmakers calling for the memo's release have not even read the underlying documents upon which the memo is based.
Democratic members of the panel have also prepared their own memo that they say fills in the blanks and counters the misleading GOP memo, but House Intelligence voted Monday to keep that one out of the public eye and make it available to House members only.
Despite protests from Democrats and the intelligence community, the White House has already signaled willingness to release the so-called Nunes memo.
Trump was caught on a hot mic right after his State of the Union address Tuesday evening telling a GOP lawmaker he would "100 percent" release the Nunes memo, and a White House official told Reuters that Trump is likely to provide his consent for its release Thursday.
The White House did not immediately return a request for confirmation or comment.