Rift over classified memo deepens as Donald Trump attacks Democrat who described its release as ‘political hit job on FBI’
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia as well as whether there have been efforts to obstruct the investigation
US President Donald Trump lashed out at the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Monday, a day after Democrats and Republicans said Trump was wrong to assert that a Republican Party-produced classified memo on FBI surveillance powers cleared him in the Russia investigation.
The House intelligence panel plans to meet Monday afternoon and is expected to consider whether to release a Democratic rebuttal memo. The committee rejected that move last week, with one Republican member saying revisions were needed so the memo would not endanger national security.
Trump would decide whether to release the memo if it contains classified information.
A White House official said Monday that the administration would consider releasing the Democratic memo, subjecting it to a similar review process as the Republican memo. The official was not authorised to speak publicly and sought anonymity to discuss internal thinking.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, has urged Trump to back the public release and said that refusing to do so would show the president’s intent to undermine the Russia investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia as well as whether there have been efforts to obstruct the investigation.
Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper! Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2018
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he supports the release of the Democrats’ memo, if sensitive intelligence information is removed.
Trump strode into the debate Monday on Twitter, saying: “Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper! Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!”
Schiff responded on Twitter, writing: “Mr. President, I see you’ve had a busy morning of ‘Executive Time.’
“Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or...really anything else.”
Schiff has branded the Republican Party memo “a political hit job” and has questioned whether the chairman, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, had coordinated with the White House in drafting the document seized on by the president to vent his grievances against the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies.
“The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding,” Schiff said. “I think it’s very possible his staff worked with the White House.”
Nunes was asked during a January 29 committee meeting whether he had coordinated the memo with the White House. “As far as I know, no,” he responded, then refused to answer when asked whether his staff members had communicated with the White House. He had previously apologised for sharing with the White House secret intelligence intercepts related to an investigation of Russian election interference before talking to committee members.
Trump’s Saturday tweet that the memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” even as “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on” found no echo from four committee Republicans who appeared on the Sunday talk shows.
Brad Wenstrup said: “I think this is a separate issue.” Chris Stewart said: “No, it doesn’t end that.” Will Hurd said “I don’t,” when asked whether he agreed with Trump. Trey Gowdy, asked whether the memo affected the investigation, said: “No, not to me, it doesn’t, and I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it.”
Lawmakers also said the memo should not impede Mueller.
“I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that the special counsel shouldn’t complete his work. I support his work. I want him to finish it. I hope he finishes it as quickly as possible,” Stewart said.
The memo released on Friday alleges misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and his ties to Russia. Specifically, it takes aim at the FBI’s use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing allegations of ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.
The underlying materials that served as the basis for the warrant application were not made public in the Republican Party memo. Even as Democrats described it as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited the memo – released over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department – in their arguments that Mueller’s investigation is politically tainted.
The memo’s central allegation is that agents and prosecutors, in applying in October 2016 to monitor Page’s communications, failed to tell a judge that the opposition research that provided grounds for the FBI’s suspicion received funding from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Page had stopped advising the campaign sometime around the end of that summer.
Steele’s research, according to the memo, “formed an essential part” of the warrant application. But it’s unclear how much or what information Steele collected made it into the application, or how much has been corroborated.
Republicans say a judge should have known that “political actors” were involved in allegations that led the Justice Department to believe Page might be an agent of a foreign power – an accusation he has consistently denied.
The memo confirms the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, months before the surveillance warrant was sought, and was “triggered” by information concerning campaign aide George Papadopoulos. He pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.
The confirmation about Papadopoulos is “the most important fact disclosed in this otherwise shoddy memo,” Schiff said on Saturday.