Everyone in official Washington is whispering about the next shoe to drop in the ongoing Russia investigation. Last week, after the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to declassify a Democratic memo responding to the highly partisan and seemingly incomplete memo penned by Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, President Trump’s government lawyer announced that the White House would be withholding the report. Over the weekend, Democrats fumed as they scrambled to find a way to get their rebuttal in front of voter’s eyes. “The Republican members of the Intelligence Committee get to have it both ways,” Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly tells Rolling Stone. “They get to say, ‘Well, what do you mean? We’re committed to transparency, we voted to release the Democratic memo.’ But of course they knew the White House would block it. It’s a very, very cynical move.”
The White House says it’s working with the FBI to release the Democratic memo, but they gave no timeline. Restive Democrats accuse the GOP of using obvious delay tactics to distract American voters. “By the time it’s released we’ll have moved on to the latest Twitter controversy or wife beating case of a staffer in the White House,” says Connolly. “And that’s by design and it’s coordinated and cynical.” Recently, he trekked down to the secure room on the Capitol grounds – where lawmakers check their phones at the door and review classified information – and read the Democratic memo in full. Connolly says there’s no justification to withhold it. “The Democratic memo lays out in some detail what actually happened,” he says. “And the phony, conspiracy theories being touted by Mr. Nunes and his friends at Fox and his enablers in the Intelligence Committee and the White House will be exposed for being utterly false.”
The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, says he’s working with the FBI and his GOP counterparts to try to redact parts of the memo so that it can be released to the public. But Connolly and many other Democrats are exploring more extreme options, like bringing the decision before the House of Representatives and forcing members to vote on whether to release the memo or not. There’s even some discussion of having a member of the Intelligence Committee read the memo into the official House record during floor proceedings which would make it public.
At the same time, a number of Republicans say they support the swift release of the Democratic memo, including some currently under investigation, like former Trump advisor Roger Stone, who reportedly had some of his communications swept up in the surveillance of people connected to the Trump campaign. Now, Stone’s calling for the entire FISA warrant to be released. “I’d like to see what other evidence warranted government spying on the Republican candidate for President and his associates,” Stone texted Rolling Stone this weekend. “I believe there is none and my civil liberties were violated as a matter of political espionage.”
Traditionally, the Intelligence Committees have been sacred, bipartisan spaces walled off from the bitter partisanship of Washington, which is why even Republicans are voicing frustration with the competing narratives coming out of the panel. “I don’t think it was a good idea,” Republican Sen. Jeff Flake tells Rolling Stone. “I wouldn’t want the Republican memo or a Democratic memo. I really don’t like politicizing the committee and its work.”
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says it’s clear the GOP is making concerted efforts to distract voters and undermine federal investigators.”When I was a prosecutor, when the facts were increasingly incriminating of the defendant, you try to put the government on trial,” Schiff tells Rolling Stone. “With the GOP memo in the House, with the original trip [Nunes] made to the White House on the supposed unmasking conspiracy. All of this is an effort to put the FBI and the Department of Justice on trial, rather than focus on ‘What did Russia do to interfere in our election? What role did the Trump campaign play?'”