After SOTU, Lawmakers Waiting To See If Trump Will Release GOP Memo

Jan 31, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 12:04 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is keeping a low profile today as his team talks up his performance in last night's State of the Union address. We'll hear responses and analysis of that speech all through the show.

But we begin this hour with another matter, something the president said last night as he was leaving the House chamber. A member of Congress urged him to release a classified memo, a memo crafted by a Trump ally in the House who has criticized the FBI's handling of the Russia investigation. President Trump was heard on a hot mike saying, quote, "don't worry - 100 percent," end quote.

For more on the memo and reaction to Trump's address, we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

M. KELLY: So here's what we know. The House Intelligence Committee voted along partisan lines to release this secret memo. We know it falls now to the White House to decide whether to allow that to happen. So what's the read on what President Trump said last night? What light does that shine on what the White House might do?

KEITH: So what the president said last night seems to be pretty much in line with the White House position. So White House chief of staff John Kelly was on the Brian Kilmeade Show on Fox News Radio this morning. Asked about the memo, he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "BRIAN KILMEADE SHOW")

JOHN KELLY: Our national security lawyers in the White House that work for me, work for the president - they're slicing and dicing it, looking at it so that we know what it means and what it understands.

BRIAN KILMEADE: Did you see it?

J. KELLY: I did.

KILMEADE: What do you think?

J. KELLY: Well, it'll be released here pretty quick I think, and the whole world can see it.

KEITH: It seems as though they fully expect to release the memo. And Kelly is pitching this as a matter of transparency. But this also pits the White House and the president against the FBI director that he's hand-selected less than a year ago. The FBI put out a statement today urging in no uncertain terms that the memo not be released. It said in part, quote, "we have grave concerns about material emissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

M. KELLY: Well, so this is fascinating. In normal times, if the FBI says it has grave concerns about a classified memo being made public, I would think that the memo might not be made public. But we don't live in normal times. I mean, how is the FBI argument being heard at the White House?

KEITH: Yeah, we do not live in normal times. And you know, the context here is that President Trump has been beating up on the FBI and the intelligence community and the Russia investigation and calling it a witch hunt. So this memo has been set up by the president's allies as some sort of smoking gun that will make the FBI look bad. So when the FBI then raises concerns about the memo, Trump's allies can - and they are - dismissing those concerns as a cover-up.

M. KELLY: Tam, let me draw you back to last night's State of the Union address and the response to it. In just a second, we're going to hear from Congressman Joe Kennedy, who delivered the Democratic response. I want to ask you how the Democratic response went down at the White House and what their take was on how the president's speech went down. We heard some boos from Democratic lawmakers in the crowd.

KEITH: That's right. And during the speech itself, Democrats were essentially sitting on their hands most of the time. Those audible boos came during the section about immigration. And while the White House describes the president's comments on immigration as aimed at bipartisan compromise, Democrats instead heard the language of division.

I went and asked a White House aide about that, and he said Democrats were putting the interests of hundreds of thousands of people in the country illegally over the best interests of Americans. It's a fight that the White House seems very willing to have. And it was a message that chief of staff John Kelly also delivered today on Fox News Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "BRIAN KILMEADE SHOW")

J. KELLY: I don't think anyone should hate someone else or show them disrespect just because they disagree on anything. It's really - we have to fix this. We're America.

KEITH: And they're going to have to fix it quickly because there's a government funding deadline at the end of next week.

M. KELLY: Looming just ahead of us - NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.