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Trump vindicated by memo. Not so fast, say panel Republicans

FBI and Justice Department officials got a warrant

FBI and Justice Department officials got a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate by misleading a surveillance court judge, House Republicans contend in a memo released Feb. 2, 2018. Democrats dismissed the document as a contrived account intended to protect President Trump. Photo Credit: Bloomberg / Alex Wroblewski

No collusion? No conclusion

Before the release of Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo, Donald Trump’s cheerleaders were calling for the shutdown of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. After its release, the president tweeted “this memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe.”

It’s not just Democrats calling that nonsense. So, more politely on Sunday’s talk shows, did four House intelligence committee Republicans who voted to make it public: Reps. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), Chris Stewart (Utah), Will Hurd (Texas) and Trey Gowdy (S.C.).

The president’s partisans argue the Mueller investigation is tainted because a request for surveillance of former Trump campaign official Carter Page cited the Russia dossier funded for a time by Democrats.

But Gowdy, the only committee Republican who saw the classified matter underlying the memo, listed other bases for the probe. Among them: contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, outreach by a Trump-hired data firm to WikiLeaks about hacked emails and obstruction-of-justice questions.

“There is a Russia investigation without a dossier,” Gowdy said. See the story for Newsday by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and David M. Schwartz.

Speaking of collusion

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), is pressing for White House clearance of his rebuttal memo. He charged Nunes’ goal was to “undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding.”

He questioned whether Nunes (R-Calif.) had coordinated with the White House in drafting the document. Last year, when Nunes claimed a “whistleblower type” had given him information about Obama-era surveillance, it turned out his sources were Trump White House officials.

Gowdy, best known for leading the House GOP’s Benghazi probe of Clinton, said the point of the memo should be to spotlight “a really sloppy process” and little more.

“I support Bob Mueller 100 percent,” said Gowdy. “I say investigate everything Russia did.”

Figuring it out

Trump has long been unhappy with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who played a role in the surveillance request, and oversees Mueller. Asked if he planned to fire Rosenstein, Trump told reporters Friday, “You figure that one out.”

He should not, said Gowdy: “I don’t judge people based on a single decision that they make throughout the course of an otherwise really stellar career.”

A harsher view came from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). He called for Rosenstein, former FBI Director James Comey and two other officials to be prosecuted for treason, a crime punishable by death.

Fed up at the FBI

Public attacks from Trump and his allies have diminished morale inside the FBI, current and former officials told The Washington Post.

For decades, the bureau has been trusted to uncover corruption at all levels of government, including the White House, but the accusations are seen as corroding its ability to remain independent and do its job.

“There’s a lot of anger,” an unnamed law enforcement official told the Post. “The irony is it’s a conservative-leaning organization, and it’s being trashed by conservatives. At first it was just perplexing. Now there’s anger, because it’s not going away.”

More nyaah nyahh nyahh 

Apparently jarred by the prospective release of the Dems' rebuttal to the Nunes memo, Trump on Twitter early Monday resumed a round of name-calling  that is likely to be parroted by his fans.

"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!

 He also kissed up again to his Fox News defenders..

Janison: Trickle-down conflicts

It’s not just the Trump family business that repeatedly has raised conflict-of-interest questions for his presidency. The conduct of appointees further down the ranks of the administration can seem ethically challenged, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.

Just last week, it was reported that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson had his son, businessman Ben Carson Jr., help organize an agency event in Baltimore after department lawyers warned of the appearance of a conflict.

Also last week, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quit after reports that she traded in tobacco stocks while a top public-health official that leads anti-smoking effort.

The list goes on.

Trump’s Super Bowl Sunday

Though he railed against the NFL all season because of players’ protests against racial injustice during The Star-Spangled Banner and applauded boycotts by like-minded fans, Trump hosted a Super Bowl watch party at the Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach.

Trump also issued a written statement saluting America’s armed forces, saying, “We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the National Anthem.”

What else is happening:

  • Trump advisers questioned why the administration allowed the Nunes memo to become a dominant subject during a week in which he gave a relatively well-received State of the Union address, The Associated Press reports.
  • Democratic Senators are making a point of warning Trump that he lacks the legal authority to launch a "pre-emptive strike" on North Korea — a response to concerns that the president is too impulsive to follow a rational strategy. 
  • The FBI’s scrutiny of Carter Page’s Russian connections started as early as 2013, well before Trump decided to run for president. Now Time Magazine reports Page boasted of working as an informal adviser to the Kremlin in a 2013 letter.
  • Congressional Republicans remain splintered on key areas of Trump’s legislative agenda, including immigration and his ambitions for infrastructure, reports Politico.
  • A Holocaust denier appears to have secured the Republican nomination for a suburban Congressional seat in Illinois currently held by Democrat Dan Lipinski.
  • After two tries, Trump is giving up on his nomination of climate-change skeptic Kathleen Hartnett White as his top environmental adviser. In a hearing last November, White defended stating that ozone is not harmful unless “you put your mouth over the tailpipe of a car for eight hours every day.”
  • Also withdrawn: the nomination of K.T. McFarland of Manhattan and Southampton — eased out of the National Security Council after Mike Flynn’s firing — to a consolation post as ambassador to Singapore. Trump blamed Democrats, but the Senate’s GOP majority chose not to bring her across the finish line.
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars in spending by the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency is improperly accounted for at a time when Trump is moving to hike the military budget, Politico reports.
  • Payday lenders are enjoying looser regulation under the Trump administration, The New York Times reports. Budget director Mick Mulvaney, in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ended a case against a group of Kansas lenders accused of charging interest rates of nearly 1,000%.

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