WASHINGTON (AP) — A redacted, declassified memo released by Democrats on the House intelligence committee Saturday aims to counter a narrative that Republicans on the committee have pushed for months — that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against President Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, abusing a secret surveillance process to spy on one of his operatives in its Russia investigation.
The Democratic memo was released Saturday after weeks of delays. The White House on Feb. 9 objected to its release, citing national security concerns. That sent the Democrats back to negotiations with the FBI over how much of the memo needed to be blacked out.
President Donald Trump had no such concerns about an earlier classified memo written by Republicans, which he declassified Feb 2 over strong objections from the FBI. In that memo, Republicans took aim at the FBI and the Justice Department over the use of an anti-Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
The Democratic document attempts to undercut and add context to some of the main points from the GOP memo, including the GOP assertion that the FBI obtained the surveillance warrant without disclosing that Steele’s materials were funded by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Republicans had said that federal authorities had not disclosed enough to the court about the political nature of the work, but the Democratic memo contends that the Justice Department disclosed “the assessed political motivation of those who hired him.”
The Democratic memo also asserts that the FBI’s concerns about Carter Page long predate the Steele dossier, and that its application to monitor his communications details suspicious activities he undertook during the 2016 presidential campaign. That includes a July 2016 trip to Moscow in which he gave a university commencement address.
Trump has said the GOP memo “vindicates” him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn’t be used to undermine the special counsel.
Partisan disagreements on the intelligence committee have escalated over the last year as Democrats have charged that Republicans aren’t taking the panel’s investigation into Russian election meddling seriously enough. They say the GOP memo is designed as a distraction from the probe, which is looking into whether Trump’s campaign was in any way connected to the Russian interference.
The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said Saturday that the memo should “put to rest any concerns that the American people might have” as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the court that issued the secret warrant. That court operates under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
The review “failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders disagreed. She said that Trump supported the redacted release of the memo in the interest of transparency, but “nevertheless, 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.”