ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
After days of buildup, the memo is out. Of course we're talking about the Republican document alleging that the FBI and the Justice Department abused surveillance powers to target the Trump campaign early on in the Russia investigation. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following this story for a very long time...
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: ...And is here with us now. Hi, Ryan.
SHAPIRO: We've seen the memo. What does it say?
LUCAS: Well, the allegations revolve around a surveillance warrant that was obtained by the FBI on Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. As the memo tells it, the FBI and the Justice Department relied on information in the infamous Trump-Russia dossier that was put together by a former British spy and paid for by Democrats. They used this dossier to get approval to conduct that surveillance.
The memo says the FBI didn't disclose that to the FISA Court - that's the court that approves those surveillance orders - didn't disclose that the Democrats were paying for the dossier. The FBI also allegedly left out that the dossier's author disliked Trump and was leaking information to the media that was then used to support the surveillance application before the court.
SHAPIRO: A lot of this sounds familiar from arguments that Republicans have been making for a long time. Is there anything in the memo that's surprising?
LUCAS: What's perhaps the most surprising is that the memo - and this is perhaps inadvertently - bolsters the case for the Russia investigation. Here's how. It says the FBI and Justice Department obtained the surveillance warrant from the FISA Court. These warrants run 90 days. In the case of Carter Page, they were renewed three times.
Now, why is that important? It's important because in order to get the court to renew the surveillance, you have to prove to the court that you're getting intelligence from it, that it's producing. So in the case of Page, the indication is that the surveillance was indeed paying off. The other surprising thing in the memo is that it says the FBI's Russia investigation began in late July of 2016 because of information related to George Papadopoulos.
SHAPIRO: Not Carter Page.
LUCAS: Not Carter Page - Papadopoulos. Now, Papadopoulos of course was a campaign adviser like Page. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his own contacts with Russians. Now, if the investigation was launched because of Papadopoulos, that means the allegation from Republicans that the dossier is the root of the investigation - that can't be true.
SHAPIRO: Part of what made this so unusual was that the FBI and the Justice Department strongly fought the release of this memo while the White House pushed for it to come out.
SHAPIRO: What have we heard from the FBI and the Justice Department today?
LUCAS: Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions put out a statement that tried to walk a very fine line. He says he has great confidence in the men and women of the department, but no department is perfect. He says he looks forward to working with Congress and will work hard to ascertain the truth of the matter.
Now, the FBI put out a statement earlier this week, the one in which it said it has grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy. Now that the memo is out, the FBI is kind of stuck. To correct what it sees as inaccuracies would likely involve disclosing classified information. That's not something that it's going to do. The FBI Agents Association, however, put out a statement today defending the work that the bureau does. It says the American people should know that FBI agents won't let partisan politics distract them from their mission.
SHAPIRO: I want to take a step back here for a minute because since this investigation began, the president has fired the former FBI Director James Comey. The bureau's No. 2 official, Andrew McCabe, recently stepped aside. And today the president said in light of the memo that there are a lot of people who should be ashamed and much worse. Could people lose their jobs over this?
LUCAS: One individual who is under pressure is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He's an individual who signed one of these surveillance orders before the court.
SHAPIRO: And he oversees the Russia investigation conducted by Robert Mueller.
LUCAS: Exactly. And Trump has been talking with people about getting rid of Rosenstein. The president was asked today whether he would fire Rosenstein in light of the memo. His response was, you figure that one out. The concern here of course is that the memo may be used as a justification to push Rosenstein out. And because he's the one who oversees the Russia investigation, that's a big concern.
SHAPIRO: It's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks very much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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