WASHINGTON -- The House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released a redacted, declassified memo written by Democrats to counter Republican claims that the FBI and Justice Department abused a secret surveillance process to spy on one of Donald Trump's operatives during the presidential campaign.
The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, 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 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
"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," he said in a statement.
The Democratic memo was released 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.
Trump did not express concerns about an earlier classified memo written by Republicans, which he declassified Feb. 2 despite 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 in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, Carter Page, as part of the investigation into election meddling by Russia.
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 the dossier materials, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, 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."
"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.
The FBI frequently relies on sources who have agendas, whether they are gang turncoats or mafia informers. What is typically seen as important by courts is that the agenda is disclosed to a judge.
In the case of Page, the surveillance applications were reviewed by four different judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, the document says. Each approved of the request.
The Democrats' memo also asserts that in applications to renew the wiretap, the FBI provided the court with information from independent sources corroborating some of Steele's information. Much of the specific corroborating evidence was blacked out.
And, according to the Democrats, the wiretap produced "valuable intelligence" for the FBI that justified its renewal. The document offers specific examples, which were redacted by the Justice Department.
The warrant application, as well as the renewal requests, remains under seal, and only a handful of lawmakers from either party have seen it. The New York Times has filed a motion asking the surveillance court to take the unusual step of unsealing it.
Page, a former investment banker based in Moscow, had been on the FBI's radar for years, long before his association with Trump. The Democratic memo reveals that the FBI interviewed Page as late as March 2016 about his contacts with Russian intelligence agents, the same month Trump added him to his foreign policy advisory team.
"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 document also responds to claims by some Republicans, including Trump, that the FBI relied on Steele's findings to open its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. Information from Steele, the memo says, did not reach the FBI counterintelligence team investigating Russian meddling until mid-September, well after the investigation had been opened.
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.
No new information was declassified in the Democrats' redacted memo, according to a senior Democratic committee official.
But on Saturday, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., accused Democrats of colluding with the government in a "cover-up."
"We actually wanted this out," he told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. "It's clear evidence that the Democrats are not only covering this up, but they're also colluding with parts of the government to cover this up."
Nunes' accusations were directed not only at the Democrats who wrote the memo, but at former President Barack Obama's administration as well.
"This was money from the Hillary campaign and the Democratic Party making its hands into an agent who was paying Russian agents," Nunes said. "Is it fair to ask, what did President Obama know?"
According to Schiff, Democrats submitted their proposed redactions more than a week ago. At first, they were told the memo would be released Friday, then on Monday, he said. They learned of its release Saturday only shortly before Nunes, the Intelligence Committee's chairman, announced that the document had been put online for public perusal, Schiff said.
"I think the White House tried to bury it as long as they could," he told The Washington Post in an interview. The Republicans' decision to release the memo without warning, on a Saturday, is "not what you do when you think you're vindicated," he added. "It's what you do when you think the facts don't reflect well on you."
The president nonetheless claimed a victory on Twitter, calling the Democrats' memo "a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!"
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to the memo in a statement Saturday: "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."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., 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."
Some Republicans have used the GOP memo to question special counsel Robert 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."
But congressional Democrats and Republicans -- including Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, and House Speaker Paul Ryan -- have said it shouldn't be used to undermine the special counsel.
Partisan disagreements on the intelligence committee have escalated over the past year as Democrats have claimed that Republicans aren't taking the panel's investigation into Russian election meddling seriously enough. They say the GOP memo was designed as a distraction from the probe, which is looking into whether Trump's campaign was in any way connected to the Russian interference.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Saturday 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."
Information for this article was contributed by Mary Clare Jalonick, Chad Day, Eric Tucker and Tom LoBianco of The Associated Press; by Billy House and Christopher Condon of Bloomberg News; by Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times; and by Karoun Demirjian, Rosalind S. Helderman and David Weigel of The Washington Post.
A Section on 02/25/2018
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