Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) warned of a looming “constitutional crisis” if Republicans in Congress succeed in having a controversial classified memo released that reportedly attacks the FBI and the Justice Department’s Russia investigation.
Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, railed against the release of the memo produced by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), in an op-ed for The Washington Post on Wednesday. Schiff called the four-page document, which Republicans claim reveals the FBI’s political bias, a “conspiracy theory” designed by the GOP to undermine the FBI and Justice Department as their investigations into Russian ties to the Trump campaign go deeper.
“As [special counsel Robert] Mueller and his team move closer to the president and his inner circle, a sense of panic is palpable on the Hill,” Schiff wrote. “GOP members recognize that the probe threatens not only the president but also their majorities in Congress.”
The risk of a “constitutional crisis” is increased, he said, by “setting the stage for subsequent actions by the White House” to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Schiff accused Republicans of attempting to undermine the Justice Department and FBI by painting them as “so tainted by bias against President Trump that they irredeemably poisoned the investigation.”
He added, “This decision to employ an obscure rule to order the release of classified information for partisan political purposes crossed a dangerous line.”
House Republicans on Monday voted along party lines to release the classified Nunes memo, a move a legal expert called unprecedented on CNN. During that same meeting, Republicans voted against releasing a counter-memo produced by Democrats.
During Monday’s meeting, Schiff accused Republicans of breaking the intelligence panel’s nonpartisan tradition by working in favor of President Donald Trump’s political agenda, according to a transcript released Wednesday.
“You know, again, I think what we are seeing here is the result of having a President of the United States who does not respect the institutions of our government or a system with checks and balances,” Schiff argued.
“And it is hard for me to escape the conclusion that this is anything but doing the bidding of the White House. We are accusing the FBI and the Department of Justice here of wrongdoing without giving them any opportunity to be heard.”
Republicans claim they are pushing for their memo’s release as an act of transparency so that the public can assess the information in it for themselves.
In a letter to Nunes, however, a Justice Department official said that releasing the classified memo would be “extraordinarily reckless” and could “risk harm to national security and to ongoing investigations.”
On Wednesday, the FBI released an unsigned statement expressing “grave concerns” over the memo’s release and inaccuracies it may contain.
“The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said in the statement. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Nunes, whose staff wrote the memo, responded to the FBI’s statement saying that its objections came as “no surprise.”
Schiff warned that if the memo were to be released, the intelligence community might no longer trust members of Congress with “closely guarded national secrets.”
“Intelligence agencies can no longer be confident that material they provide the committee will not be repurposed and manipulated for reasons having nothing to do with national security,” Schiff wrote. “As a result, they will be far more reluctant to share their secrets with us in the future.”
“This is a grave cost for short-term political gain,” he added.
While Nunes is responsible for the memo’s potential release, Schiff laid the blame on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for allowing Nunes to carry on an attack against the Justice Department.
“Nunes may have wielded the committee gavel here,” Schiff said. “But the ultimate responsibility lies with [Ryan], who lacked the courage to stop him.”
The Intelligence Committee sent the classified memo to President Donald Trump, who has four days to decide whether to release it or block it.
Hours after the op-ed was published, Schiff in a letter accused Nunes of secretly making “material changes” to the classified memo before sending it to the White House for Trump to review.
Schiff tweeted the letter and claimed that Republicans were being “deliberately misleading” by altering the material in the memo without the approval of committee members.
He called on the Republicans in the committee to withdraw the memo sent to Trump because it is “not the same document shared with the entire House and on which Committee members voted.”
This article was updated to include quotes from the committee meeting, information on the Democrats’ counter-memo and Schiff’s letter to Nunes on changes made to the memo.