ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The House Intelligence Committee has voted to release a controversial memo that alleges the FBI abused surveillance powers to target the Trump campaign. The vote was on strict party lines. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following the story and is here to tell us more. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: First remind us what this memo's all about.
LUCAS: Well, it's a memo that was prepared by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee - that's Devin Nunes - and his staff. It's important to remember that Nunes is an ally of President Trump. The memo itself is still classified of course, so we don't know what exactly it says. But in general terms, we know that it basically alleges that the FBI and Justice Department abused surveillance tool - a surveillance tool known as FISA to target the Trump campaign. It also reportedly alleges that the FBI leaned on the infamous Trump-Russia dossier to get court approval for this surveillance.
Now, Democrats say that this is all basically a set of Republican talking points. They call it willfully misleading. They also say that it's an attempt to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and to undermine Mueller's probe. Now, the DOJ itself has appealed for this memo not to be released. It said doing so would be extraordinarily reckless. It says it could hurt national security. So this has become really a very contested issue.
SHAPIRO: So the Justice Department says, don't do this; it will hurt national security. Why did Republicans decide to do it anyway?
LUCAS: Well, Republicans say that the abuses are galling enough that the American public needs to know so that it can't happen again. Democrats, on the other hand, will say that this is all part of a broader effort by the president's allies to undermine the Mueller investigation. And on that partisan line, Democrats say today that they asked for the FBI and Justice Department to come brief House lawmakers about the material and provide contacts before the memo is released. They say that Republicans rejected that option.
Democrats also say that Republicans voted against releasing a 10-page memo that Democrats had prepared to rebut the Republican document. That may come out later. That's still to be determined. But for now, it's the Republican memo that's been cleared by the committee for release. It will now go to the president, who has five days to raise objections about its release. So far, however, the White House has said, you know, they're in favor of this memo going forward.
SHAPIRO: And there was another major announcement coming out of the FBI today. The deputy director, Andrew McCabe, stepped down today. Tell us about that story.
LUCAS: Well, McCabe is a longtime FBI guy, worked for more than 20 years, spent some time working on mob cases in New York, then moved over to counterterrorism, rose up through the ranks and was named deputy director - so the No. 2 official - in January of 2016. It's a very big job. You're involved in pretty much everything that the FBI does. And he oversaw domestic and international investigations, which of course put him in the middle of two really big cases here. That would be the Clinton email server and the Trump Russia probe.
And it's his role overseeing those investigations that has made him really a central figure in the ongoing political battles. He's been a favorite target of criticism for the president and his allies, who say that anti-Trump political bias at the FBI and, by extension, on special counsel Robert Mueller's team - that McCabe is kind of part and parcel of that.
SHAPIRO: Do you think McCabe's exit is going to quiet any of the criticism of the FBI?
LUCAS: I don't think there's really any chance of that, no. Because this is so intertwined with the Russia probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, until that investigation ends, I don't think the criticism of the FBI will. And going after McCabe was part of the Republicans' allegations of political bias but certainly not the only part, you know? They pointed to anti-Trump text messages between senior FBI officials. They pointed to political donations on Mueller's team. And some Republicans of course are pointing at the newest memo that we talked about earlier.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks very much.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.