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Nunes’ classified memo ‘raises more questions than it answers,’ says former FBI agent Rep. Fitzpatrick

Congressional Republicans are fanning doubts about the Russia probe. Without offering direct evidence, one senator spoke of corruption and a "secret society" within the FBI. Meanwhile, a memo drafted by aides to Rep. Devin Nunes reportedly alleges that the FBI abused its powers to surveil the Trump campaign. John Yang gets reaction from Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., a former FBI agent.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to the political firestorm over the independence of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

    John Yang has the story behind a secret memo, lost-and-found text messages, and more.

  • Sean Hannity:

    Any time there's big breaking news about this massive government abuse of power…

  • John Yang:

    To hear some news outlets tell it, there is widespread outrage.

  • Tucker Carlson:

    So if it turns out that this whole investigation is a politically motivated sham…

  • John Yang:

    Casting doubts on special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    President Trump told reporters Wednesday he was looking forward to answering Mueller's questions and said he would do it under oath.

  • Question:

    Do you have a date set, Mr. President?

  • President Donald Trump:

    I don't know. No, I think — I guess they're talking about two or three weeks. But I would love to do it.

    Again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that. But I would love to do it.

  • John Yang:

    Congressional Republicans are also fanning doubts about the probe. This week, without offering direct evidence, Senator Ron Johnson spoke of corruption and a secret society within the FBI

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    I have heard that there were managers, high-level officials at the FBI, that were meeting together off-site.

  • John Yang:

    He claimed such a society was referred to in texts between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from Mueller's team.

    Today, reporters pursuing Johnson on Capitol Hill asked if the reference could have been a joke.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson:

    It's a real possibility.

  • John Yang:

    Republicans also raised warning flags when the FBI said it could not find about five months' worth of those texts, but in a letter to Congress today, the Justice Department's internal watchdog said his office had recovered them.

    There is also the matter of what's being called the Nunes memo. Drafted by aides to House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, it reportedly alleges that the FBI abused its powers to surveil the Trump campaign. The specifics of the four-page document aren't clear because it's classified and only available to members of Congress, despite calls from the right and the left to release it to the public.

    Republican Congressman Mark Meadows calls its contents shocking.

  • Rep. Mark Meadows:

    Part of me wishes that I didn't read it, because I don't want to believe that those kinds of things could happening in this country that I call home and love so much.

  • John Yang:

    The Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Adam Schiff, says it is pure politics.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff:

    They wanted to make a political statement. They wanted to feed the beast on FOX News. They wanted to do what they could to derail the Mueller investigation.

  • John Yang:

    Schiff said committee Democrats would write a memo of their own, a sign that temperatures are still rising on Capitol Hill over an investigation that continues to intensify.

    To talk more about this, I'm joined now by Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania. He has a unique perspective on these issues, because, before he was elected to Congress in 2016, he was an FBI agent for 14 years and also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney.

    Mr. Fitzpatrick, thanks for joining us.

    I take it you have seen this so-called Nunes memo. I know you can't talk about it in detail because it's classified, but from what you have read, does it suggest any wrongdoing or missteps on the part of the FBI or the Justice Department?

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    The memo answers some questions, but I think it raises more questions than it answers.

    So any time we are dealt with a situation like this, there is a continuum of the need for transparency and also the need for confidentiality, particularly in covert investigations.

    And it's really a case-by-case basis when we have a situation like this. And one of the reasons why I err on the side of releasing this, after scrubbing it and after declassifying it, is, given all of the — given all the controversy surrounding this, because with any FBI investigation, this one included, public confidence and the integrity of the investigation is very, very important, and given all the reporting surrounding this, I think that if the declassification is done in the right way, it's probably to the benefit of the country to disclose some of the contents.

  • John Yang:

    Do those contents raise questions about the integrity of the FBI?

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    Well, I think it raises the questions of the judgment.

    And before we say integrity, we have to know whether this was intentional or negligent content. That's the most important thing.

    But there are certain people that are mentioned by name, most of whom have already been reported in the media. So, from their standpoint, it is very disturbing, some of the facts that came out in that memo. Once it's declassified, the nation will see that.

    But, like I said, it also raises a lot more questions than it answers with regard to the chain of command and who knew what. And it's not our place to prejudge. It's our place to investigate. So, I know the Intelligence Committee is doing their work. The special counsel is doing his work.

    I'm on the Homeland Security Committee. We have a role to play as well. But the most important thing, John, is that we stick to the facts and we maintain our credibility. We don't sensationalize the memo to indicate that things are included that are not included, but also not to be dismissive of some of the very troubling things that are in the memo.

  • John Yang:

    Senator Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has talked about what he calls — quote — "an unbelievable level of bias at the top of the FBI."

    On the other hand, Congressman Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the memo is a — quote — "distorted view of the FBI."

    Where do you fall on that continuum? I know you can't speak to the details.

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    Yes.

  • John Yang:

    I take it you are somewhere in between, but are you closer to one side or the other on that?

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    No, I mean, I don't want to compare either one of those two or their characterization. All can I tell you is my reaction to it.

    I think it is important that the entities that are doing their work finish their work, and then we judge based on the facts, because our job in an oversight role is similar to that of an FBI investigator, when I did that job.

    It is to follow the facts wherever they lead, and to report those facts with unimpeachable integrity.

  • John Yang:

    Yesterday, the president was asked if he trusted the FBI. And he said — quote — "I'm very disturbed, as is everybody else that is intelligent."

    As a member of Congress, as a 14-year veteran of the FBI, how do you react or what is your reaction to the president of the United States saying that about the FBI?

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    I don't think that we should judge an entire institution because of a few bad actors.

    I think the solution is to expose those bad actors, identify them by name, make public their bad conduct, and deal with them appropriately. I think that is the proper way to be viewing this.

    And, again, for the unanswered questions, we need answers to those. And that could lead to other things, just like when I was an investigator, a lot of times we would go up on a wiretap for a money laundering case, and we ended up learning about a drug conspiracy, and it takes you down a totally different path.

  • John Yang:

    You served under Robert Mueller when he was director of the FBI. You were an agent at that time. Do you have any concerns about the integrity of the investigation?

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    We haven't have been briefed on his investigation.

    I can tell you that, when Robert Mueller was director of the FBI, he was a man of integrity. Again, I can't speak to what is going on now, because we haven't been briefed on it. I am not on the Intelligence Committee. I'm on the Homeland Security Committee. Our committee has not been briefed on this investigation.

    But I do believe that investigators and prosecutors should be given the leeway to do their work.

  • John Yang:

    And do you think Mr. Mueller is being treated fairly?

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    By who?

    I think to say whether he is being treated fairly or not is going to depend on his investigative results and what context he provides to that. So I think — and I will say that Mr. Mueller should be allowed to do his work. I supported the call for a special counsel. I called for that, actually, because I thought that the investigation should be taken out of the political realm and put into the hands of law enforcement, the women and men that I had the privilege to work side by side with for so long.

    I supported the call for a special counsel. I supported the decision to hire Mr. Mueller. I think he, you know, was the right pick. And how he goes about conducting that investigation, well, let him do his work and then report back, and then we can all be the judge of that.

  • John Yang:

    Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick:

    Thank you, sir.

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