Debate Over Controversial GOP Surveillance Memo Heats Up

Feb 1, 2018
Originally published on February 1, 2018 8:12 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you're familiar with that phrase I guess I never got the memo, well, as soon as today, you may get the memo. President Trump is deciding whether to let the public see the document prepared by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. It draws on classified information to question the conduct of the FBI. President Trump's own FBI says the memo is inaccurate, and its release would be damaging. But here is the president making this decision. And NPR's Tamara Keith is here to tell us about it. She covers the White House. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What are the president and his staff saying about this memo?

KEITH: They're saying that they expect it to come out. John Kelly, the chief of staff of the president, yesterday on Fox News Radio said that he had seen it. Then he was asked, well, what does it show. What did you see? And he said, well, everyone in the world will see it soon enough. We expect to put it out soon.

INSKEEP: And, of course, the president was caught making this remark about it - saying 100-percent chance that it will get out. Now Michael Hayden was on the program today. He's a former head of the National Security Agency, former head of the CIA - appointed by a Republican President George W. Bush, by the way, to the CIA post - no fan of President Trump but a member, long-standing, of the intelligence community. And he said this about releasing the memo.

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MICHAEL HAYDEN: I just fear the great damage that will be done to institutions, including oversight committees in the Congress, including the presidency and, of course, obviously the FBI.

INSKEEP: Fearing damage from what he sees as a hyper-partisan attack on the FBI - what would make the president willing to run that risk?

KEITH: The White House is saying that they are in favor of transparency. I mean, that's the official line - that they just want this out there for the public to see for themselves. The reality is that, as you said before, the president has clearly made up his mind - 100-percent he wants this out there. And let's remember that the president of the United States has been beating up on the FBI, on the intelligence community and the Russia investigation, which he calls a witch hunt, for months and months and months now. So the idea of a memo that could somehow injure the FBI or injure the intelligence community, that's not something that - clearly the president has not been worried about potentially giving this community a black eye.

INSKEEP: And, of course, the FBI has been investigating his campaign - the president's campaign's involvement - if any - with Russians while Russia was interfering in the 2016 election. And we should mention that the investigation goes on. Last night, the New York Times reported something about that investigation. And Hope Hicks, the president's longtime aide - according to The Times, Hicks had something to say about a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., other top campaign officials and Russians. There was a chain of emails before that meeting to set it up. And Hicks allegedly said in a phone conversation that those emails, quote, "will never get out" although her lawyers denied she said that. What would it mean if she did say that?

KEITH: Well, and the reality is, just as a reminder, those emails did get out. Almost immediately, they were released by Donald Trump Jr. himself. Now the question here is whether she was saying they will never get out because somehow they will be withheld from investigators, which could potentially be obstruction of justice. Her attorney, in a statement to NPR and other news organizations, completely denies that and says the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that emails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.

INSKEEP: But this is the latest of many, many, many incidents where the question has come up - is the president obstructing justice by firing officials, demanding that officials be fired, criticizing officials, running down the FBI, making statements that turned out to be wrong about this very meeting? That's the question on the table here.

KEITH: Right. And just to go full circle here, there are some, particularly on the left, who would say that the effort to put this memo out is an effort to interfere with the Russia investigation.

INSKEEP: If this itself could be obstruction - Tamara, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Tamara Keith, who is NPR's White House correspondent and also a host of the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.