WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was wrong to assert that a GOP-produced classified memo on FBI surveillance powers cleared him in the Russia investigation, Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Sunday. They expressed hope that special counsel Robert Mueller’s work would continue without interference.
Democrats could seek a vote on publicly releasing their rebuttal memo when the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee meets late Monday afternoon. The committee rejected that move last week, with one Republican member saying revisions were needed so the memo would not endanger national security. The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, urged Trump to back the public release and said that refusing to do so would show the president’s intent to undermine the Russia investigation.
The committee’s top Democrat, California Rep. Adam Schiff, branded the GOP memo “a political hit job.” He questioned whether the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had coordinated with the White House in drafting the document seized on by the president to vent his grievances against the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies.
“The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding,” Schiff said. “I think it’s very possible his staff worked with the White House.”
Nunes was asked during a Jan. 29 committee meeting whether he had coordinated the memo with the White House. “As far as I know, no,” he responded, then refused to answer when asked whether his staff members had communicated with the White House. He had previously apologized for sharing with the White House secret intelligence intercepts related to an investigation of Russian election interference before talking to committee members.
Trump’s Saturday tweet that the memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” even as “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on” found no echo from four committee Republicans who appeared on the Sunday talk shows.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said, “I think this is a separate issue.” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said, “No, it doesn’t end that.” Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said, “I don’t,” when asked whether he agreed with Trump. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked whether the memo affected the investigation, said, “No, not to me, it doesn’t, and I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it.”
The Democratic response was more expected: “Of course, not at all,” said Schiff. Added Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.: “No, of course it does not.”
Lawmakers also said the memo should not impede Mueller.
“I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that the special counsel shouldn’t complete his work. I support his work. I want him to finish it. I hope he finishes it as quickly as possible,” Stewart said.
The memo released Friday alleges misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and his ties to Russia. Specifically, it takes aim at the FBI’s use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing allegations of ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.
The underlying materials that served as the basis for the warrant application were not made public in the GOP memo. Even as Democrats described it as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited the memo — released over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department — in their arguments that Mueller’s investigation is politically tainted.
The memo’s central allegation is that agents and prosecutors, in applying in October 2016 to monitor Page’s communications, failed to tell a judge that the opposition research that provided grounds for the FBI’s suspicion received funding from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Page had stopped advising the campaign sometime around the end of that summer.
Steele’s research, according to the memo, “formed an essential part” of the warrant application. But it’s unclear how much or what information Steele collected made it into the application, or how much has been corroborated.
Republicans say a judge should have known that “political actors” were involved in allegations that led the Justice Department to believe Page might be an agent of a foreign power — an accusation he has consistently denied.
The memo confirms the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, months before the surveillance warrant was sought, and was “triggered” by information concerning campaign aide George Papadopoulos. He pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.
The confirmation about Papadopoulos is “the most important fact disclosed in this otherwise shoddy memo,” Schiff said Saturday.
Schiff and Hurd spoke on ABC’s “This Week.” Stewart appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” Gowdy was on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and Wenstrup was interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union.”