DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A State of the Union address is often jampacked with agenda items, but here is something the White House says we will not hear tonight from President Trump - a decision on whether to release a classified memo. A Republican drafted this memo. Republicans along party lines in committee voted yesterday to release this memo, and Republicans have been highlighting it. It asserts that the FBI abused its surveillance powers to monitor a Trump campaign official while it was investigating Russian election interference. Now, President Trump will have to decide whether or not to release this memo. Its author, Republican Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, thinks it should be public. The committee's ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, thinks releasing it would be a mistake. And Congressman Schiff joins us this morning.
Congressman, welcome back.
ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.
GREENE: It's good to have you. So why do you think this memo should not be made public? Why shouldn't the public see this?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, the memo very much distorts the underlying materials. And as the Department of Justice made clear in a letter last week, the chairman of our committee never even bothered to read the underlying materials. So it mischaracterizes the information that it won't make public. So the public is not going to be able to see how it distorts the facts. But more than that, it's not been vetted at all with the Department of Justice or the FBI to make sure that it doesn't reveal sources or methods or compromise the investigation in any way. That's the normal practice if you ever consider declassifying information.
I made a motion prior to its release, or prior to the order of its release to ask the Department of Justice and FBI to come in and brief all the members of Congress on a classified basis so it could set out its concern over the accuracy or inaccuracy of the memo or any consequences that could flow from disclosure. And the majority voted not to have them come in, in fact, voted not to even read the underlying materials. And that ought to tell you all you need to know about the real motivation here.
GREENE: Well, I want to ask you about some of the facts. I mean, you say we obviously don't know a lot, but one of the assertions is that the FBI and Justice Department broke the law on surveillance and wiretapped a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. I mean, can you say with certainty that that did not happen?
SCHIFF: I can't comment at this point until the memo is made public on what it discusses because it's still classified, or what the underlying materials have to say. I can tell you that I've read the underlying materials. Apparently there were only two of us that have, two members of the committee. And I find the memo to be deeply misleading. We wrote for the committee a memo that sets out the accurate facts and their proper context. And, of course, not surprisingly, when we took this up the last night and the majority said that in the interest of full transparency they thought the public should see this, we moved to make our own memoranda public at the same time, and they voted that down.
GREENE: So you have your own memo. What does your own memo say?
SCHIFF: The memo that we wrote points out all the fallacies in what the majority put out and would now make public. We think it's regrettable that we need to go that step, but if they're going to paint a misleading picture for the country, we think it's necessary for the country to have the accurate information. But we are vetting our memo with the Department of Justice and the FBI. We want to make sure that they redact anything that they think could affect or interfere with the investigation. But the majority apparently doesn't want the country to see that, at least not until they can get this misleading document out the door.
GREENE: Although, if there are competing memos, I mean, you've said that the Republican memo about what the FBI did or didn't do was partisan spin. Wouldn't yours be the same thing?
SCHIFF: Well, we've actually set out the facts from the underlying materials, and we've annotated it to show where it came from the underlying materials in an effort to at least paint an accurate portrait of what's taken place. And you could certainly say, well, isn't the Democratic memo going to be just as skewed as the Republican memo? That's not always the case. There are times when one party gets it right. The problem is the public won't get to see the underlying materials, won't get to make that judgment.
But that's the whole point of this GOP exercise. It's the politicization of intelligence to protect the president, to circle the wagons around the White House as Bob Mueller's investigation gets closer and closer to the president. It's a continuation, really, of what we saw at the beginning of the investigation when our chairman went to the White House claiming that he had obtained secret documents showing corruption of the Obama administration, an illegal unmasking a conspiracy, only to learn a couple days later that in fact the materials he went to present to the White House he in fact got from the White House and showed no such thing.
GREENE: I don't mean to interrupt you. I just don't want to run out of time. Let me just ask you a bottom line question. I mean, are you worried that your party's resistance to releasing this memo just feeds this narrative that Democrats are actually trying to hide something here?
SCHIFF: No. I mean, at this point the memo has been ordered by the majority to be released. The only thing that's being withheld are the minority views. So ironically the released memo campaign has boomeranged, and it's now the majority that is trying to keep information from the public.
GREENE: OK. That is Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks, as always.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.