WASHINGTON DC — President Donald Trump was overheard telling a lawmaker on Tuesday he “100%” plans to release a controversial memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools.
The President was responding to Rep. Jeff Duncan’s entreaty to release the document as he departed a packed House Chamber following his first State of the Union address.
“Mr. President, let’s release the memo,” Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, was heard asking Trump on a live camera feed from the House floor.
“Don’t worry, 100%” Trump responded. “Can you imagine?”
The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Monday to publicly release a classified memo written by Republicans alleging FBI abuses in the agency’s surveillance.
The memo claims the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act over its use of the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia as part of the case to obtain a FISA warrant for a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.
Trump has five days following the vote to decide whether to allow the public release to move forward or object to it.
Hours before Trump made his offhand remark on Tuesday, his press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying there are “no current plans” to release the memo.
“The President has not seen or been briefed on the memo or reviewed its contents,” she said.
Trump has told aides he wants the memo released as quickly as possible, two people familiar with the matter say, but decided against doing so before the State of the Union address to avoid obscuring what the White House hoped would be a unifying message.
Some members of his inner circle also worried the memo, now sitting in a classified room in the White House, would distract the President himself from speech preparations in the hours leading up to Tuesday night’s address.
Trump has made plain to chief of staff John Kelly and others within the administration that he wants the information released, and that message has been relayed to the Justice Department, including during a meeting at the White House on Monday between Kelly, FBI Director Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
A White House official said the President, technically, wouldn’t have to do anything this week and the memo would become public. But the official said that was not a likely course of action because the President was eager to play a role in the memo’s release.
Top aides have also told the President it is important the White House be seen as giving the Justice Department’s concerns due weight by conducting the inter-agency national security review of the memo, along with a legal review. That review is already under way among advisers, an official said, and their findings will likely be presented to the President as early as Wednesday.
Representatives of the White House and the National Security Council declined on Tuesday to detail which agencies would be involved in the review.