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GOP stepping up attacks on Justice, FBI over Russia probe

Congressman Peter King and Lee Zeldin seen at

Congressman Peter King and Lee Zeldin seen at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Friday, July 28, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Republicans on Thursday moved ahead on a plan to make public their secret memo that they say shows FBI and Justice Department abuses of spying power against Donald Trump — an attack a top Democrat called “delusional.”

Meanwhile, the Justice Department inspector general on Thursday said he had recovered five months of text messages between two FBI officials accused of bias against the president that the FBI had said were missing, after Republicans and Trump had raised questions about them.

And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) backed down from his claim that one of the existing text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page showed the existence of an anti-Trump “secret society” within the FBI — after it turned out apparently to be a joke referring to a gag gift of Putin-themed calendars for other FBI agents.

As special counsel Robert Mueller has zeroed in on the White House and Trump in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Republicans have stepped their attacks on Justice and the FBI. Democrats say Republicans are trying to distract from the Russia probe.

“Ever since special counsel Mueller was appointed, Republicans and the right-wing media have been desperate to distract the nation from his investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday.

“First they waged an aggressive and coordinated — and I would say shameful — attack on the integrity of the special counsel,” Schumer said. “That political smear campaign has now bled into a spiraling and delusional attack on the FBI itself.”

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Republicans are taking aim at top Justice and FBI officials because they opened an investigation into a presidential campaign with only “flimsy rumors” about Russian ties to Trump.

“With all the improprieties that went on here, the fact is that I believe this investigation should never ever have been started in the first place. I look upon it either intentionally or unintentionally as a political hit job,” King said on Fox News.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), also on Fox News, said, “I am all for releasing the memo.”

King in an interview said Republicans rejected Assistant Attorney General Justice Stephen Boyd’s request for a review of the four-page memo to ensure it doesn’t reveal confidential data because the department was “extremely uncooperative” with the panel.

Boyd said release of the memo would be “extraordinarily reckless.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat, said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, “produced a very distorted memo” and had the panel vote to allow all House members to read the confidential memo to create “bias” about the Russia probe.

Schiff said Democrats are producing their own memo to counter the Nunes document that he hopes the committee also allows all House members to review.

In the coming weeks, Americans interested in the congressional investigations into Russian meddling could be swamped with memos, text messages and more committee testimony.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said Thursday he hoped to release a transcript of the questioning of Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended a June 2016 campaign meeting in Trump Tower with Russian lobbyists and lawyers.

But some experts warned that much of the information may be out of context, as apparently happened with the text message cited by Johnson.

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