WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Friday made public their declassified memo that they say shows Justice Department and FBI officials abusing their surveillance authority for “political purposes” in the early stages of the probe of the Trump campaign and Russia.
The four-page document by the House Intelligence Committee Republicans — and bitterly disputed by the panel’s Democrats — said its findings represent a “troubling breakdown of legal processes” in the FBI requests for surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the committee chair who oversaw the creation of the memo, said his staff “discovered serious violations of the public trust” that should be made public to show when Justice and FBI officials “are abusing their authority for political purposes.”
President Donald Trump, who approved release of the memo without redactions over the strong objections of his top Justice appointees, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, said he had declassified the memo and had sent to the committee, which quickly posted it on its website.
“It’s a disgrace what’s going on in this country,” Trump said. “A lot of people should be ashamed, and much worse than that.”
The FBI said it had “grave concerns” about the accuracy and lack of context of materials included in the memo. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd last week said in a letter that release of the document without proper vetting would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
Democrats roundly criticized both the release and substance of the memo, and sought to downplay its importance by calling it a “dud” riddled with errors.
But Democrats warned that Trump could use it to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign.
When asked about firing Rosenstein, Trump said, “You figure it out.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top committee Democrat, said the memo contains “misleading allegations” against Justice and the FBI officials and “mischaracterizes highly sensitive information.”
He said the memo’s release, backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), undermines the investigations by Mueller and Congress, and endangers national security and the intelligence community’s operations. “The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the president,” Schiff said.
Schiff said committee Democrats on Monday will seek a vote to release their memo, which details mischaracterizations and errors in the Republican document. Republicans last Monday had rejected release of the Democrats’ memo.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement it was willing to work to make that memo publicly available after making sure “to protect intelligence sources and methods.”
The Republicans’ memo seeks to make the case that the origins of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia began with politically biased FBI and Justice officials bent on stopping Trump.
The memo said the FBI should not have used evidence based on opposition research by former British spy Christopher Steele to get a warrant to conduct surveillance on a former Trump campaign volunteer because it was unverified and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
It also said the FBI covered up those shortcomings of that information, often called the Steele dossier, and the political bias of the Justice and FBI officials involved by not disclosing it in its application to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get the warrants.
On Oct. 16, 2016, the FBI sought and won a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a businessman with ties to Russia who served as a volunteer Trump campaign adviser from January to September 2016.
In 2013, Page had been targeted for recruitment by spies working as attaches at the Russian consulate in New York City and during that year the FBI questioned Page about one of the alleged spies that he knew.
The FBI successfully renewed the request to extend the surveillance for another 90 days three more times, the memo said, all without disclosing the political conflict. In spring 2017, Trump-appointed Rosenstein approved the fourth request.
Schiff said the FBI investigation did not begin with the Steele dossier and disputed the memo’s assertion that the FBI covered up the shortfalls in the information and political motivations of Steele and those who hired him.
Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the biggest problem the memo pointed to was the FBI’s failure to reveal the origin of the Steele information. But if the FBI called it opposition research without saying who paid for it, it doesn’t seem as big a problem, he said.
“What’s missing is more significant than what’s there. Whether the conduct directly documented counts as ‘minor misstep’ or ‘major scandal’ would depend on other facts not explicitly stated,” Sanchez explained in a tweet.
This all comes as special counsel Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing former FBI Director James Comey.
On Friday morning, before authorizing the memo’s release, Trump tweeted, “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans — something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!”
After the memo was released, Comey tweeted: “That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”