Memo wars: US House panel votes to release Democratic rebuttal on Russia probe
Donald Trump now must decide whether to declassify the document, as he did with a Republican memo that he claimed ‘vindicated’ him in the Russian-meddling investigation
The US House intelligence committee voted unanimously Monday night to release a Democratic rebuttal to the Republican Party’s memo on the Russia investigation that President Donald Trump declassified last week.
The document now goes to Trump, who has five days to decide whether to declassify it.
The Democratic document aims to counter the Republican memo, which accuses the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their authority in monitoring a one-time Trump campaign associate.
A White House spokesman said Trump would “consider” the Democratic memo’s release just as he had the Republican document.
Earlier Monday, Trump traded insults with the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, Representative Adam Schiff of California.
Trump resorted to his occasional name-calling on Twitter, labelling Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.” He added that Schiff “must be stopped.”
Schiff quickly shot back: “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.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah took a more measured approach, saying consideration of a release would “allow for a legal review, national security review led by the White House counsel’s office.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he supports the release of the Democrats’ memo, if sensitive intelligence information is removed.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, urged Trump to back the public release and said refusing to do so would show the president’s intent to undermine the Russia investigation.
On Sunday, Republicans as well as Democrats said Trump was wrong to assert that the GOP-produced memo cleared him in 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.
Trump tweeted over the weekend that the memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” even as “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on.” But that statement found no echo from four committee Republicans who appeared on the Sunday talk shows. 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,” said Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah.
Schiff has branded the GOP memo “a political hit job” and has questioned whether the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican chairman 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 congressional 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 also praised Nunes in a separate tweet Monday, calling him “a man of tremendous courage and grit, may someday be recognised as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure!”
The memo released Friday alleges misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 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 GOP 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.