In a report that repudiates the FBI's argument that releasing the FISA memo would have "grave consequences" for national security, Washington Post reported Friday that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly believes the memo's contents wouldn't harm national security. In fact, he believes the House Intel Committee's salacious claims about the document and its probable impact have been overblown.
However, Kelly also advised President Trump that releasing the document wouldn't compromise national security (a credible endorsement, considering Kelly's extensive resume in that area).
During the Jan. 18 call where two House conservatives - Rep. Jim Jordan and Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows - first raised the subject of declassifying the Nunes memo, Trump was unfamiliar with the topic and more focused on trying to stave off a government shutdown.
This would change however after Trump listened to Rep. Trey Goudy argue for the memo's release on Fox News. Around that time, Trump became convinced that the memo should be released before he even read it after discussing the memo with friends, advisers and Republican lawmakers.
The president did not actually see the memo - written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Nunes’s staff - until Wednesday afternoon, following the committee’s Monday vote to initiate its release, officials said. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly marched the document into the Oval Office so that he and Trump could briefly discuss it before the president’s meeting with regional reporters.
The president was then left alone to read the memo in its entirety.
A White House official said Kelly returned a few hours later and shared with the president his opinion: that releasing the memo would not risk national security but that the document was not as compelling as some of its advocates had promised Trump.
Still, even before viewing the document, the president recognized its potential utility, reportedly mused to senior aides that the memo might provide the cover he needs to fire Rosenstein, or make other changes at the DOJ...
According to WaPo, Kelly even met Monday afternoon with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Rosenstein and listened to their arguments against the release, saying the memo could expose classified information and was an "inaccurate depiction of the bureau’s investigative methods." But Kelly remained unconvinced. Wray called Kelly later the night to make one final pitch, which Kelly rebuffed.
On Tuesday, five FBI officials, including at least one from counterintelligence, went to the White House to discuss their concerns with Kelly, a White House official said.
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats also met with Kelly at the White House this week to express his reservations, one U.S. official said.
But Kelly was not swayed.
Vice President Mike Pence is also reportedly on board with the memo's release, with he and his team also pushing for its release. Pence hinted at his view in an interview Wednesday with Politico.
"I’ve always believed in the public’s right to know, and I stand by that principle," Pence said. "But we’ll respect whatever decision the president makes concerning that memo."
To be sure, the White House has recognized the potential for political pitfalls, ad has orchestrated the process so that Congress will have "full ownership" of the memo in the event that it is "a dud." So the president’s advisers made a decision to create at least the perception of distance between the White House and the House Intelligence Committee, leaving the public cheerleading for the memo’s release largely to Republican lawmakers.
This way, Trump has managed to skew the risks of releasing the memo in his favor. If the memo gives him the cover to make the changes at DOJ - fantastic. But if it's a dud, Nunes will take the brunt of the criticism. The White House said it would approve the release of the memo Friday, but final decision lies with Nunes and company...