Congress releases redacted Democratic memo on FBI surveillance in Russia probe
The White House objected to its release on February 9, citing national security concerns.
The US House intelligence committee has published a redacted version of a declassified memo which aims to counter allegations by the Republicans the FBI abused government surveillance powers in its investigation into Russian election interference.
The Democratic memo’s release on Saturday was the latest development in an extraordinary back and forth between Republicans and Democrats about the credibility of not only the multiple inquiries into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, but also about the credibility of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.
The Democratic document attempts to undercut and add context to some of the main points from the Republican memo, including their assertion that the FBI obtained the surveillance warrant without disclosing that former British spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump research was funded by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The Democratic memo contends that the Justice Department disclosed “the assessed political motivation of those who hired him” and that Mr Steele was likely hired by someone “looking for information that could be used to discredit” then-candidate Trump’s campaign.
Republicans say that is not enough, since the Clinton and the DNC were not named. President Donald Trump himself seized on this point in a tweet on Saturday evening: “Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were – the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!”
The White House had objected to the Democratic memo’s release, citing national security concerns on February 9. That sent the Democrats back to negotiations with the FBI, which approved a redacted version. It was then declassified and released.
Mr Trump had no such concerns about an earlier classified memo written by Republicans, which he declassified in full on February 2 over strong objections from the FBI.
In that memo, Republicans took aim at the FBI and the Justice Department over the use of information compiled by Mr Steele in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
The Democratic memo asserts that the FBI’s concerns about Mr 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.
The memo also contends that the Justice Department provided “additional information from multiple independent sources that corroborated Mr Steele’s reporting” in the dossier.
Most of the details of the corroborated information are redacted but they do appear to reference Mr Page’s meeting with Russian officials. The memo says that the Justice Department didn’t include any “salacious allegations” about Mr Trump contained in the compilation of memos drafted by Mr Steele, now known as the Trump-Russia “dossier”.
The memo also details Russian attempts to cultivate Mr Page as a spy. It cites a federal indictment of two Russian spies who allegedly targeted Mr Page for recruitment and notes that the FBI interviewed him based on those suspicions in March 2016.
The Democrats say the FBI made “made only narrow use of Steele’s sources” in the warrant in the secret court that operates under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
Republicans say that is still too much.
“Again, the fact the minority cannot outright deny that a DNC/Clinton funded document was used to wiretap an American is extremely concerning,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement.
Mr 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 representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it should not be used to undermine the special counsel.
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