House Intel meets Monday and could vote on memo release — is Jeff Sessions softening his stance?
|U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions gestures during a speech on Security and Immigration priorities before a group of law enforcement officials in Norfolk, Va., Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)|
The House Intelligence Committee meets at 5 p.m. Monday in the Capitol.
The meeting will give the committee its first opportunity to vote on the question of releasing the so-called "FISA abuse" memo that has captured Washington's attention in recent days. Since the GOP holds a 13 to 9 advantage on the committee, the overwhelming likelihood is that if there is a vote, the panel will decide, along party lines, to release the memo.
At that point, House rules call for the committee to await a decision by the president on whether he supports or opposes release of the memo. President Trump has made clear he supports release, so the memo could be made public quickly.
The public might also learn committee Democrats' plans for a counter-memo. Ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff has accused Republicans of cherry-picking and distorting the intelligence underlying the GOP memo, and last Wednesday announced that Democrats would "draft our own memorandum, setting out the relevant facts and exposing the misleading character of the Republicans' document."
Schiff said that at Monday's meeting he will move for a committee vote to make the Democratic memorandum available to all members of the House — a mirror image of the committee's Jan. 18 vote to make the Republican memo available to the House.
It is unclear what the Republican majority's reaction will be if Democrats produce a memo and demand a vote. Obviously, Democrats will not win if the two parties disagree, but it's not clear what each side's tactics will be.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department continues to oppose publication of the Republican memo. In a Jan. 24 letter to Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said it would be "extraordinarily reckless" for the panel to release the memo without giving the Justice Department and the FBI a chance to read it and object.
The Boyd letter is just the latest point of contention between Congress and the Justice Department and FBI over the Trump-Russia affair. Republican oversight committees have complained about Justice-FBI "stonewalling" (House Speaker Paul Ryan's word) of congressional requests for information, especially concerning the Trump dossier.
Now, though, it appears that Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who remains recused from the Trump-Russia affair — is trying to send conciliatory signals to Congress on the oversight issue. In a speech in Norfolk, Va. on Friday, Sessions suggested the Justice Department has been too "defensive" in handling criticism.
"We don't see criticism from Congress as a bad thing," Sessions said. "We welcome Congress as a partner in this effort [to improve the Justice Department]. When they learn of a problem and start asking questions, that is a good thing. Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant. Truth produces confidence."
"A culture of defensiveness is not acceptable," Sessions concluded.
Upon hearing Sessions' speech, a number of Republicans had a reaction along the lines of: That's nice — now, how about doing something about it? It's not clear if Sessions' words will have any effect on the current impasse. After all, having recused himself from the Trump-Russia affair, the attorney general is not making the decisions.
Now, the battle goes on. The next 72 hours could be critical in the case of the memo: a possible vote to release it, a presidential go-ahead, and, most importantly, public evaluation and analysis of its contents. Does it live up to some Republicans' characterizations of it? Are Democratic criticisms accurate? Does its release, in fact, damage national security? It could be a very eventful week.