Washington – House Intelligence Committee Republicans on Friday released a controversial, once-classified memo critical of the way top FBI and Justice Department officials sought court permission to wiretap Carter Page, an adviser to the Trump campaign.
Released almost immediately after the White House cleared it, the memo was immediately criticized by Connecticut Democrats – and several key Republicans – as a dangerous effort to distract from and discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 elections.
“This despicably wrong decision is a desperate attempt by President Trump and his Capitol Hill lackeys to smear the special counsel – and it will fail,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “This document changes nothing. It regurgitates now well-worn and widely discredited Republican talking points.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned his colleagues against releasing the memo, written by GOP members of the panel, calling it a “shoddy, second-rate hit job.” Himes also opposed release of a dissenting memo written by committee Democrats.
On Friday, Himes said both memos should have been released together, because the Democratic memo had a “point-by-point refutation” of the Republican memo.
Himes called that GOP memo an inaccurate piece of propaganda that has landed with a thud.
“This is designed to destabilize the Mueller investigation, but there is nothing in it that delegitimizes the Mueller investigation,” he said.
He also said Nunes had toned down some of the memo’s “accusatory language,” before sending it to the White House for review.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said, “The release of the…memo dangerously politicizes the traditionally bipartisan House Intelligence Committee and seeks to discredit our vital national security institutions with a misinformation campaign.”
The Republican memo said its findings “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain (Justice Department) and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” also known as the FISA court.
The memo called those interactions “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”
The “breakdown” is based on the memo’s allegations that a number of FBI and Justice Department officials, including Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, had based their requests to the FISA court for permission to surveil Page on a “dossier” compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.
The dossier was paid for, in part, by a law firm that represented Hillary Clinton. But it was also paid for by a GOP super donor Paul Singer, which the memo does not mention.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said “I am increasingly concerned about the undermining of our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies by the majority party.”
Rosenstein in trouble?
The memo is not an intelligence document, it only reflects information the committee has gathered.
“There is no other way to explain President Trump’s action today other than as an attack on the special counsel, the FBI, Deputy AG Rosenstein, and ultimately, the rule of law,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who is recuperating from hip replacement surgery.
Courtney said writers of the memo “cherry picked” information to attack the warrant application.
“At the end of the day…a federal judge approved it based on facts presented by the FBI, not a political agenda,” Courtney said.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called the memo “garbage evidence” and said it “seems to do more to confirm the legitimacy of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign than to undermine it.”
Evidence of that, Murphy said, is that the memo confirms the counterintelligence investigation began with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulous, well before the FISA warrant was granted on Page, “who has been under FBI investigation since 2013 when the Russians attempted to recruit him as a spy.”
“It is clear from this memo that Chairman Nunes is serving up garbage evidence to provide cover for the president to fire either Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in order to scuttle the investigation before it reaches the truth,” Murphy said.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said, “I am frankly appalled by the decision to release a doctored, partisan, classified memo for nakedly political purposes.”
“Today’s decision blatantly ignores the advice of the FBI and President Trump’s own top national security officials, who urged against its release,” Esty said.
The FBI and the Justice Department also have criticized the information in the memo as incomplete and misleading.
Law enforcement officials also have expressed concern that the White House may use the memo as justification to fire Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller probe.
At a press conference on Friday, Trump was asked if he had confidence in Rosenstein.
Trump replied, “You figure that out.”
The president attacked the nation’s top law enforcement officials in an early morning tweet.
“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!,’” the president tweeted.
Yet many senior people involved in the investigation, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Rosenstein, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and former FBI Director James Comey are all longtime Republicans.
Several Republicans, mostly in the Senate, have been uncomfortable with the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ actions.
On Friday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said “the latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s.“
“The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded,“ McCain said in a statement. “Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”
Himes said memogate has cause a deep rift between the Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Nunes has repeatedly used his position to try to defend the president,” he said.
But he also said the committee is capable of continuing its Russia probe.
“I think we can continue to work on the investigation, but it’s going to take a lot of work to produce a report that is fair,” Himes said.