Of course the government shutdown is topic No. 1 on Capitol Hill this weekend; that's why lawmakers, normally spread across the country in their states and districts, are in Washington on a Saturday and Sunday. But in the House of Representatives, concern about the shutdown is nearly matched by interest in something else: the memo, produced by Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, detailing so-called "FISA abuse" in connection with the Trump dossier and the larger Trump-Russia affair.
A steady stream of lawmakers, almost all of them Republicans, has been visiting a secure room in the Capitol, where they are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before reading the four-page memo. So far, more than 180 out of 241 GOP members of the House have read the document. That is an extraordinary level of interest, given that there is a government shutdown going on.
The memo is based on classified information that House Intelligence Committee investigators managed to pull out of the FBI concerning the dossier, and in particular the use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which grants law enforcement permission to spy on Americans. Republicans have long asked whether the Obama Justice Department improperly used unverified information from the dossier — financed and produced by the Hillary Clinton campaign — to spy on one or more persons associated with the Trump campaign.
Lawmakers coming out of the secure room have been both extravagant in their expressions of astonishment and tight-lipped in their discussions of what is actually in the memo. Some of the Republicans who appear frequently on television, like Jim Jordan and Ron DeSantis, have reacted strongly to the memo's contents. But less-in-the-limelight members, the ones who aren't on cable every day, have also been profoundly affected.
"Having read the memo I was shocked, absolutely shocked — shocked and disappointed," said Rep. George Holding, a former United States attorney from North Carolina who often used FISA in his former work. "I can't say anything about what's in the memo…but I think anyone reading this would quickly understand that the process was abused."
Now that a majority of Republicans have read the memo — Democrats have shown little interest in it and have disparaged it as mere "talking points" — the question is what comes next.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes met Saturday with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy. The three were said to be "charting a path forward.'
There's no doubt Republicans want the public to see the classified memo. To get it out, they are studying a never-before-used procedure whereby House Intelligence Committee members would vote to make the memo public, after which the president would have five days to object.
If the president had no objection, the memo would become public after those five days. If the president did object, the matter would go to the full House, which could vote to overrule the president's objections and release the memo anyway.
Republicans believe it is unlikely they would have to go that far; why would President Trump object to the release of a document allegedly showing that Obama administration officials abused the law in investigating Trump? But even if there were an objection, the feeling is the House would go ahead.
At this point, some Republicans would have a problem with their base if they didn't. The memo has become a subject of passionate interest among Trump supporters who are following the dossier investigation. The hashtag #releasethememo has been everywhere on Twitter, and Republican lawmakers have noticed.
So GOP sources expect the House will act soon, though the entire process could take two to three weeks. In the end, even if there is any reluctance among some members or leadership, voter interest is likely to prevail. "It's amazing what the pitchforks and the torches will do," said one lawmaker.