WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday said he was vindicated by a disputed Republican memo released Friday that alleges Justice Department and FBI officials spied on a former campaign adviser in the Russia investigation for “political purposes.”
Trump approved making the partisan memo public over the objections by some of his own appointees, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, setting off a political storm amid concerns Trump aims to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election interference.
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” the president tweeted while spending the weekend at his golf resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
“But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their [sic] was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!” the post to Twitter said.
Democrats dismissed Trump’s verdict. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) said the memo was part of a Republican “campaign to discredit and to distract attention and to discredit the investigation of the Russian interference in our election.”
Members of both parties urged that hearings be held on the memo that Republicans called a bombshell and Democrats labeled a dud that endangers national security.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said his staff “discovered serious violations of the public trust” that raise concerns that Justice and FBI officials “are abusing their authority for political purposes.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat, said the memo makes “misleading allegations” and “mischaracterizes” classified information in an attempt “to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the president.”
Schiff warned that the president might use the Nunes memo to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee who named Mueller special counsel to take over the FBI investigation into Russian election meddling.
Asked if he plans to fire Rosenstein, Trump said, “You figure that one out.”
But White House spokesman Raj Shah late Friday said, “We fully expect Rod Rosenstein to continue on as the deputy attorney general.”
Schiff said Democrats on Monday will try again to win approval to make public their memo to rebut Republican allegations. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday said both memos should be released. Democrats said they’ll put pressure on him to allow the Democratic version to come out.
Nadler requested a House Judiciary Committee hearing to allow Wray and Justice officials to explain their concerns about the Republican memo.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), however, called for Rosenstein to appear to explain why he approved an extension of the surveillance that the memo said appears to be illegitimate.
Trump declassified the Republican memo that divulges usually tightly held information presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which operates in secret to protect both the identities of those being spied upon and the underlying rationale for the surveillance.
The Republicans’ memo alleges the Russia probe began with politically biased FBI and Justice officials bent on stopping Trump. It condemns their use of a former British spy’s largely unverified opposition research to obtain wiretap warrants.
The memo said the FBI obtained a warrant in October 2016 and three more 90-day extensions to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who quit because of business ties to Russia and revelations Russia tried to recruit him as a spy in 2013.
But the memo also confirms the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, “triggered” by information concerning a different campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
Before the memo’s release, the FBI warned it had “grave concerns” about its accuracy.