Read the shocking Republican memo on ‘FBI con’ that Democrats say could lead to a constitutional crisis
Democrats fear the memo – reprinted in full below – will be used to fire Robert Mueller or other members of the Trump-Russia probe, causing a ‘constitutional crisis’
FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials got a warrant to spy on Donald Trump’s election campaign adviser by misleading a surveillance court judge, House Republicans contend in a newly released and highly controversial memo.
The memo cites “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses” when a warrant was obtained from a foreign intelligence surveillance court to spy on Carter Page in 2016.
Democrats, fearing that it will be used as a pretext to fire key figures allies of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to block his Russia collusion probe have warned of a constitutional crisis.
Trump himself approved Friday’s public release of the four-page memo, which is reprinted in full below.
The memo focuses on how the FBI persuaded a judge to issue a warrant under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act in October 2016 to spy on Carter Page, who was a Trump campaign adviser and had worked earlier as an investment banker in Moscow.
Part of the warrant application involved the dossier of unverified allegations against Trump created by Christopher Steele, a former British spy.
The Republicans say a judge might not have approved the request for surveillance of Page if the FBI had revealed in the wiretap application that Steele’s research was funded in part by Trump’s campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, and Democrats.
Concerned that this might be used as a pretext to fire key figures in Mueller’s investigation – or even Mueller himself – eight Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Nancy Pelosi have spoken out.
“We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation,” they said in a statement.
“Firing [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein, DOJ Leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre,” they said, referring to disgraced president Richard Nixon’s orders to fire justice officials during the Watergate scandal.
Trump told reporters Friday that “Congress will do whatever they’re going to do” with the information in the memo.
But he added, “I think it’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country” and “a lot of people should be ashamed – and much worse than that.”
Following the release of the memo, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement: “The memorandum raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI to use the Government’s most intrusive surveillance tools against American citizens.”
And Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who previously recused himself from the Russia probe, vowed in a statement that he would refer the memo to the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
Sessions said he had received inquiries from Congress raising concerns “about the department’s performance” that he would forward to “the appropriate DOJ components.” He also praised the DOJ’s rank and file staff, saying he has “great confidence” in them.
The memo, written under the direction of Republican Representative Devin Nunes, who heads the Intelligence panel, doesn’t directly attack Robert Mueller, the special counsel now running the Russia meddling inquiry.
But Democrats have said it was concocted to help Trump by undermining the credibility of his criminal probe.
“What we don’t do is cherry-pick classified information and publish it to protect the president’s hide,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, the Intelligence panel’s top Democrat, said Thursday.
Schiff had previously said that he fears Trump will use the memo as a pretext to fire Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation and appointed Mueller as special counsel.
“The White House knows it would face a firestorm if it fired Bob Mueller,” Schiff said. “If Rod Rosenstein is fired and someone else takes his place, that is a yes man for the president.
“Then, they can limit Bob Mueller’s investigation in ways we will never see.”
Trump, asked Friday whether he has confidence in Rosenstein, said only: “You figure that one out.”
Nunes, of California, said in a statement Wednesday that “top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign.
“Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
Democrats on the US House Intelligence Committee also slammed the memo, and vowed to release a response memo on February 5.
“The selective release and politicisation of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies,” they wrote.
The Democrats’ concern that the memo will be used to undercut the Russia inquiry was echoed by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
He said in a statement Friday that “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only [Russian Premier Vladimir] Putin’s.
“The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded.”
Meanwhile, James Comey - who was fired as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation by Trump - blasted the memo in a Friday tweet.
“That’s it?” he wrote, saying that the memo “wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what?”
That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.
— James Comey (@Comey) February 2, 2018
The FBI, led by Christopher Wray after Trump fired Comey, also opposed release of the memo on Thursday, saying in a statement that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
The White House decision to approve release of the memo over FBI objections undercuts Wray, who Trump has frequently praised as an effective leader who’s repairing an agency that had been in “tatters.”
House members were permitted to read the memo in private, but not the underlying classified material on which it was based.
Yet many Republicans seized on its assertions to demand the memo’s release, with the Twitter hashtag, #ReleaseTheMemo.
While Republicans on House Intelligence approved releasing their memo, they have delayed disclosure of a Democratic document offering counterarguments.
A lawmaker familiar with the Democratic response says it argues the FBI used ample information other than Steele’s dossier to get the Page warrant, and that the agency had already been working on information from a friendly country about another Trump associate.
The controversy over the memo isn’t the first involving Nunes – a fierce defender of Trump – and the Russia inquiry.
He stepped aside from his committee’s investigation for a time after Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans criticised him in March last year over claims about classified evidence.
He said the evidence revealed Obama administration officials improperly “unmasked” the identifies of people close to Trump whose names came up in legal surveillance of foreign individuals.
While Nunes made a show of rushing to the White House with the new information, he later acknowledged it was given to him by a source he had met with on the White House grounds.
In the current dispute, Nunes refused to answer questions from Democrats on the Intelligence Committee on whether the panel’s Republican staff consulted anyone at the White House in drafting the memo.
Page, who’s denied wrongdoing, seems an unlikely subject of so much attention.
While Steele’s dossier portrayed him as an intermediary in a conspiracy, White House officials and former Trump campaign aides have dismissed him as someone who offered to help when the candidate’s insurgent campaign lacked foreign policy advisers.
They say he made a trip to Russia on his own in 2016, but that they spurned his offers to brief the candidate afterward.