As evidence grows that the White House will ignore objections from the FBI regarding the release of a controversial "cherry-picked" memo—currently sucking up nearly all the political oxygen in Washington, D.C.—top Democratic leaders on Thursday called for the immediate ouster of House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) while concerns mount over whether or not FBI Director Christopher Wray will resign in protest if overruled by the Trump administration.
According to a top White House official who briefed reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday, it appears—despite conflicting reports—the administration will release the memo, without redactions, as early as Friday:
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 1, 2018
What the White House decides, however, will likely have no impact on the ire the memo has sparked among Democrats and other critics of the GOP's handling of the issue—with most of that criticism reserved for Nunes and, increasingly, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
In separate statements, both of the Democrat's top leaders in Congress put the onus on Ryan to remove Nunes for acts they say have nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with deflecting attention from Trump and undermining the ongoing probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
"It is long overdue that you, as Speaker, put an end to this charade and hold Congressman Nunes and all Congressional Republicans accountable to the oath they have taken to support and defend the Constitution, and protect the American people," Pelosi said in her letter (pdf) to Ryan.
From the outset, she charged, "Nunes has disgraced the House Intelligence Committee. Since pledging to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, Congressman Nunes has abused his position to launch a highly unethical and dangerous cover-up campaign for the White House."
Deploying the #RemoveNunes hashtag in a tweet, Schumer said the chairman should be removed "immediately." In his letter to the House Speaker, Schumer charged that under Ryan's leadership, a "dangerous partisanship among many House Republicans seems to have taken precedent over the oath we all take to protect our nation."
Meanwhile, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the fast-moving developments, CNN reports that several top White House aides are worried FBI Director Christopher Wray, who objected to the memo's release, "could quit if the highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools is released." According to the reporting:
Wray has made clear he is frustrated that President Donald Trump picked him to lead the FBI after he fired FBI Director James Comey in May, yet his advice on the Nunes memo is being disregarded and cast as part of the purported partisan leadership of the FBI, according to a senior law enforcement official.
Wray's stance is "raising hell," one source familiar with the matter said.
Wray has not directly threatened to resign after clashing with Trump over the possible release of the memo, the source added, because that is not his style of dealing with conflict.
On Wednesday, in a rare public statement on delicate matters such as these, the FBI said it had "grave concerns" about the memo, including "material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
Given the volatile situation, The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman reports that former FBI agents are saying that Wray must "be prepared to quit" if the Trump administration releases the memo despite the bureau's objections.
"Given the climate and the recent activities, going as far back as Director Comey’s departure, Wray definitely must be prepared to resign," Erroll Southers, a retired FBI special agent, told Ackerman.
While CNN reported concerns from inside the White House, NBC News reported subsequently that Wray currently has no intentions of resigning over release of the memo.
In an interview with MSNBC early Thursday afternoon, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, said that Ryan was now "a complicit party" in the GOP's attempt to mislead the American public about the contents of the memo and the underlying intelligence that may have informed it.
Late Wednesday night, Schiff raised another alarm in the controversy by saying that GOP members altered the memo they sent to the White House after it was voted on by the committee. Asked by reporters about that charge on Thursday, Ryan dismissed the concern and said the process so far "is exactly what it should have been."
Needless to say, there is no bipartisan agreement whatsoever on that claim.
Lastly, while both Ryan and the White House have claimed that all of this is being done in the name of "transparency," CNN's Jake Tapper makes the essential argument that many objective critics of their behavior so far would make:
The full-transparency argument would be, it seems:
release the Nunes memo;
release the Schiff memo;
release the underlying intelligence;
release the FISA warrant applications and renewals.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 1, 2018