Heavily Redacted Democratic Memo Counters GOP Account of Russia ProbeBy
Rebuttal is ‘a nothing,’ President Trump tells Fox TV
Schiff says no illegal action revealed by law enforcement
The House Intelligence Committee released a lengthy, extensively redacted Democratic response to a Republican memo alleging bias and misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department early in their investigation of Russian election interference.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said after the memo’s release on Saturday that the document “should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC,” referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The memo is “a nothing,” President Donald Trump told Fox TV on Saturday night. Earlier, the White House quickly weighed in, terming “politically driven” the document entitled “Correcting the Record -- The Russia Investigation.” Trump also took Twitter to term the missive “a total political and legal BUST.”
Trump’s approval for the public posting of the counter-memo was contingent on redacting parts of an earlier version for national security reasons. With the response memo’s release, Democrats on the committee got to lay out their case: that the panel’s Republican majority had cherry-picked and distorted information in an effort to undercut the probe that’s now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
No FISA ‘Abuse’
“FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” Democrats said in the 10-page document released Saturday.
“Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” said Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Americans now have two clashing, partisan accounts that claim to be true interpretations of a detailed court document that they can’t read for themselves because it remains classified.
“This politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority’s memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign,” White House Secretary Sarah Sanders, who’s attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea, said in an emailed response.
The four-page Republican memo was written under Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and released with Trump’s approval on Feb. 2. It contended that a judge issued a surveillance warrant on Carter Page, a former low-level Trump campaign adviser, primarily based on an Federal Bureau of Investigation warrant application that relied on a dossier of unverified allegations against Trump written by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Trump, in an interview with Jeanine Pirro on Fox News on Saturday night, said the Democratic memo “really verifies” the Nunes memo and is “a very bad document for their side.”
The Republican memo also asserts that the judge wasn’t told in the application that the dossier was funded by Trump’s campaign opponent Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. “FBI did not disclose who the clients were -- the Clinton Campaign and the DNC,” said Trump on Twitter. “Wow!” The FBI had opposed the release of the Republican memo, citing inaccuracies.
Schiff said Republicans are attacking the FBI for following proper procedure of minimizing the names of U.S. persons who aren’t subject to a warrant, including Trump and Clinton as candidates at the time.
“They’re supposed to mask the identities of people,” Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, the No. 2 Democrat on the Intelligence panel, contradicted a key contention from the Republican memo. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe didn’t testify before the committee in December that no warrant on Page would have been sought without the Steele dossier, as the Republican memo says, Himes said on “Fox News Sunday.”
‘Did Not Say’
Rather, McCabe said all of the pieces of the warrant “were important,” said Himes, who added that he was present for the testimony while Nunes was not. “He absolutely did not say that it would not have been filed had it not been for the dossier information,” Himes said.
Democrats also said in their rebuttal memo that the FBI and Justice Department “would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals” to conduct surveillance of Page, “someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”
“The Democratic memo makes clear that Chairman Nunes cherry-picked and distorted information from sensitive intelligence to sow discord and undermine our nation’s premier law enforcement agency -- the FBI,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said in a statement.
And Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said the memo “provides bombshell revelations about the extent to which the White House and its lackeys are willing to go to smear the Special Counsel’s probe and the FBI.”
Nunes was on stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington at the moment the memo was released.
“We actually wanted this out,” he said. “They are advocating that it’s OK for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt” paid for by one U.S. political party to attack another, Nunes said. “This is clear evidence the Democrats are not only trying to cover this up, but are also colluding with parts of the government to cover this up.”
Democrats counter that the Steele dossier wasn’t the sole grounds cited for the warrant on Page sought under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and they say a footnote in the application did indeed disclose that its origins were politically motivated.
In fact, the Democratic memo cites the FBI’s previous interest in Page and his contacts with Russians for several years, including an interview he had with the FBI in March 2016 about contacts with Russian intelligence. “The FBI’s concern about and knowledge of Page’s activities therefore long predate the FBI’s receipt of Steele’s information,” the Democratic memo stated.
The memo also said that the Justice Department “in fact informed the court accurately that Steele was hired by politically-motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared to be intended for use ‘to discredit’ Trump’s campaign.” They also included details of subsequent warrant applications that were obtained to continue surveillance of Page.
Trump delayed release of the Democratic memo earlier in the month, saying that he was responding to concerns about sensitive classified information in the document.
The Democrats also sought to combat the impression that the surveillance warrant on Page was an original sin that tainted the Russia investigation: The Republican memo itself notes that the FBI started investigating George Papadopoulos, another low-level Trump adviser with Russian contacts, in July 2016, three months before it first sought a warrant on Page.
Some Republicans have used the GOP memo to question Mueller’s continuing investigation into whether anyone close to Trump colluded in Russia’s campaign interference and whether the president sought to obstruct justice.
Trump tweeted after the Republican memo was released that “this memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” even as “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on.” Sanders reiterated in her statement that “as the President has long stated, neither he nor his campaign ever colluded with a foreign power during the 2016 election, and nothing in today’s memo counters that fact.”
Schiff has described the Republican memo as “an effort to circle the wagons around the White House and distract from the Russia probe.”
But Representative Trey Gowdy -- the only Republican on the Intelligence Committee who actually saw the classified intelligence used to write the memo -- has said it has nothing to do with other aspects of the Russian investigation, which Mueller took over last year.
“There’s going to be a Russia probe, even without a dossier,” Gowdy said this month on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
— With assistance by Christopher Condon, Mark Niquette, and Ben Brody