WASHINGTON — Concerns about classified material led Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, earlier this week to caution against the release of a hotly debated Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance powers.
But a White House review of the memo before its release on Friday eased those concerns, Kennedy told The Advocate in a phone interview. Kennedy had warned his GOP colleagues against letting "the politics of the moment cloud our judgment" in potentially disclosing government secrets during an appearance on CNN Wednesday.
Still, the freshman senator said partisans on both sides appear to be twisting the evidence in the debate and more materials should be made public if possible.
"I support releasing the (Republican) memo, I support releasing the Democratic memo, I support releasing the basis for the memos," Kennedy said, referring to the intelligence and court files on which GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California based his memo. "But what I don’t support is releasing classified information that can put our intelligence services, and therefore the American people, at risk."
"I think the American people can handle the truth, whatever it is," Kennedy added, speaking to The Advocate from his St. Tammany Parish home. "I also happen to think that both sides are spinning this stuff and I don’t think the American people are fooled. I think if you give the American people the facts, they’ll figure it out."
Other Republican members of Louisiana's congressional delegation embraced the memo's release. Rep. Clay Higgins, a former sheriff's deputy from St. Landry Parish, called the revelations in the memo "a glaring violation" and contended it showed a "glaring" omission of a key fact: that political opponents of Trump had paid the man who compiled some of the evidence cited in the warrant application.
"There has to be some insidious design, something deeply motivating law enforcement officers at the senior level," Higgins said Friday.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, was more measured in his assessment of the memo but called its release the "appropriate" decision.
"In this case, it certainly appears that key members of the Obama Justice Department allowed political bias to influence their decision making," Abraham said in a statement, "and that level of corruption is absolutely something Americans have a right to know about."
Meanwhile, Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, tweeted in response to the memo that the "apparently inappropriate/biased actions of some does not change the fact that the rest of the (FBI) team are top notch."
The FBI and other American intelligence officials objected to the release of the memo, arguing that it might compromise covert sources and methods of intelligence collection. The FBI also warned on Wednesday that key information is omitted from the memo that could make it misleading.
Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, contends in the memo that FBI agents failed to mention key information about a source's political biases in applying for a warrant to secretly surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser on foreign policy issues.
Democrats on the committee have blasted that conclusion as erroneous.
Other allegations of political bias in the FBI — including controversy over thousand of texts exchanged by two officials who previously worked for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which some Republicans contend display a strong dislike of Trump — has generated considerable debate on Capitol Hill.
Kennedy called the "vast majority" of FBI employees "apolitical professionals" but said there are clearly "some political animals over there." The senator, however, expressed concern over the escalating political battle over FBI and its investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"I also don’t want to see this debate damage the long-term (...) confidence that most Americans, including me, have in the FBI," Kennedy said.
"When Mr. Mueller finishes his job (...) I’d like to see him just publish a report and sit down with the American people and say, ‘Here are the facts and here’s what we found and you, the American people, can figure it out yourselves,’" Kennedy said, acknowledging that his proposal goes against the standard FBI procedure.
"To me, the one fact we know of is that Russia did try to interfere in our elections and they’re going to keep trying to do it. That’s why I think we ought to knock the hell out of them with sanctions," Kennedy said. "Now, there are allegations — I want to emphasize 'allegations' — that some members of President Trump’s campaign played footsie with Russian agents. There are other allegations — emphasize the 'allegation' — that some members of the FBI played footsie with Secretary Clinton’s campaign."
"I don’t know whether any of that is true or untrue," Kennedy said. "That’s why I want to get the facts."