As It Happens

Now that it's out, what does the Trump-Russia memo mean for Washington?

Washington Post reporter Shane Harris explains what the memo is, why it was so highly anticipated and what it could mean for the White House and the Russia investigation.
U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters that the document shows 'a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.' (Yuri Gripas/Reuters )

Story transcript

Washington Post reporter Shane Harris says the much anticipated Republican memo released on Friday could cost some senior White House officials their jobs — but it doesn't damage the credibility of the Russia investigation.

The four-page memo was drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes of California. The fight for its declassification has inflamed tensions in Washington.

The document, which the FBI has said is inaccurate and missing critical context, asserts that current and former FBI and Justice Department leaders signed off on a surveillance warrant to monitor communications of former Trump campaign associate, Carter Page.

Shane Harris, the intelligence and national security correspondent for the Washington Post, spoke with As It Happens about what the release of this memo means. Here is part of their conversation.  

After all the anticipation, what does it say?

Essentially it argues that the government, when obtaining a warrant to monitor the communications of Carter Page, who was a Trump campaign aide back in 2016 ... was relying in part on this notorious Steele dossier to obtain that warrant.

And it's essentially saying that by obtaining the warrant with this dossier, the government was relying on a political opposition research document that was paid for by Democrats, and the government should have informed the judge who granted the warrant of this fact.

A copy of the formerly top secret classified memo written by House intelligence committee Republican staff. (Jim Bourg/Reuters )

And because the government didn't do that, the Republicans are arguing that the entire warrant was essentially tainted, if not invalid.

And they're trying to draw a comparison, I think as well, to the overall Trump-Russia investigation by somehow saying that it has its origins in political opposition and that it's therefore not really a legitimate investigation.  

So why, before the release even, has this been such a big deal?

It's been a big deal because Republicans ... who believed that the investigation, as the president has described it, is a witch hunt are looking for some kind of evidence to support that idea. 

We heard the president say that what's contained in the memo is a "disgrace" — that people should be ashamed and much worse than that. Do you think that anyone could lose their job over this?  

That is entirely possible. The president was asked today whether he had confidence in Rod Rosenstein, who is the deputy attorney general, the No. 2 at the Justice Department and who oversees the Mueller investigation. And he didn't answer that question. And many people have been speculating for a few weeks now that this memo would give the president an excuse to fire Rod Rosenstein.  

I think probably there's not substance in this memo that would show that Rod Rosenstein acted inappropriately, so I don't know how the White House would make that connection or justification. That doesn't mean that the president won't try to fire him though.

Trump did not respond when he was asked on Friday whether he still has confidence in U.S. deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters )

Is Mueller at risk as a result of this?

It's entirely possible and we've heard murmurings and there's been reporting now that the president considered some months ago firing Robert Mueller, special counsel.

The implication in the memo is that the Steele dossier is invalid somehow because it was paid for, at least in part, by opponents of President Trump. Does the memo damage the credibility of the Russia investigation?

I don't think it does. 

Historically the courts have found … the government does have an obligation to reveal any kind of information that would cast doubt on the credibility of the source that's informing this application.

But they tend to uphold the sourcing from some pretty shady and unsavoury characters.

I don't think, having talked to experts about this at length in the last couple days, that the fact that some of this information came from a Democratically funded document would necessarily make the judge say, "I'm not going to give you the warrant." 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's job could be on the line after the release of a Republican memo that alleges the FBI abused U.S. government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

It's also important to remember that this memo has a really fascinating revelation at the very end of it where it says that the FBI counterintelligence investigation that began in July 2016 was actually triggered by information concerning another Trump campaign aide named George Papadopoulos and his connections with Russians.

That seems to totally refute what has been a largely Republican-led allegation that the Steele dossier was, in fact, the source of the FBI investigation.

So this memo actually tends to undercut one of the primary criticisms of the Steele dossier. I'm not sure they intended to do that.

With files from the Associated Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Shane Harris in the player above.


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