The U.S. Congress released a Republican memo Friday alleging bias in FBI investigations into President Donald J. Trump‘s election campaign, moments after the president authorized the explosive move.
“What’s happening in our country is a disgrace,” Mr. Trump said, announcing that he had declassified the memo drafted by Republican Congressman and former Trump transition team official Devin Nunes.
“A lot of people should be ashamed,” added Mr. Trump, who earlier Friday accused the leaders of the Justice and FBI of politicizing their investigation in favor of the Democrats. “So I sent it over to Congress. They will do what they’re going to do. Whatever they do is fine. It was declassified, and let’s see what happens.”
The move set up an extraordinary confrontation with the country’s top law enforcement authorities, and triggered speculation that FBI Director Christopher Wray would step down just six months into the job.
Mr. Trump’s critics allege the memo is designed to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation of his campaign’s ties with Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agree tried to tilt the election in his favor.
Based on classified materials, the four-page document claims that the FBI used an unsubstantiated, Democratic-funded research report to obtain a warrant in 2016 to surveil Mr. Trump’s advisor Carter Page, who had extensive Russian contacts.
The FBI had warned that the memo, crafted by Mr. Nunes as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
But Mr. Trump lashed out hard at the leaders of the FBI and Justice Department as he prepared to declassify the document.
“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans,” he tweeted.
The president called the alleged bias “something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago.”
It is important for the American public to know if the dossier was paid for by another candidate, used in court pleadings, vetted before it was used, vetted after it was used, and whether all relevant facts were shared with the tribunal approving of the FISA application.
— Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) February 2, 2018
The document, which has circulated among many members of Congress, was based on the highly classified, much larger record of the application to obtain a so-called FISA national security warrant in 2016 to surveil Page.
Democrats have sought approval for the release of their own counter-memo that argues Mr. Nunes simplified and “cherry-picks” facts to distort what happened.
Directly in the firing line were Mr. Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, all chosen last year for their jobs by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Sessions has stayed out of the fray, but Mr. Rosenstein, who directly oversees Mr. Mueller’s Russia investigation, and Mr. Wray have battled Mr. Nunes and the White House over the memo since the beginning of the year.
Democrats allege that the ultimate target is Mr. Rosenstein, the sole person able to fire Mr. Mueller.
Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Wray this week lobbied Mr. Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, and Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, against the release.
On Tuesday the FBI issued an extraordinary public warning that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
On Thursday, however, Mr. Ryan backed Mr. Nunes, characterizing the release as an act of transparency and a defense of American civil liberties.
“This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice,” Mr. Ryan said.
The memo is largely devoted to discrediting the decision to monitor Carter Page because some percentage of the intelligence came from a source deemed to be prejudiced. The memo fails to discredit the substance of the case or deal with other justifications for monitoring Page.
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) February 2, 2018
Republican Senators Uneasy Over Fight
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and the author of the still-secret counter-memo, rejected Mr. Ryan’s explanation, citing the president’s own Friday tweet.
Speaking to CBS Friday morning, Mr. Schiff said the president’s tweet made plain that the memo’s release was “designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI — to undermine the investigation; to give the president additional fodder to attack the investigation.”
“It’s a tremendous disservice to the American people, who are going to be misled by this — by the selective use of classified information.”
The President’s decision to publicly release a misleading memo attacking DOJ & FBI is a transparent attempt to discredit these institutions and undermine Mueller’s probe.
We'll fight to release our classified response. Until then here's a glimpse at what's wrong with their memo: pic.twitter.com/HX0J6UtDLY
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 2, 2018
Not all Republicans were on board, however. Four senior Republican senators, including John Thune, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, expressed their unease about Mr. Nunes’ use of intelligence in a political battle.
“The president’s apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining US intelligence-gathering efforts, politicizing Congress’ oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government,” Mr. Flake said in a joint statement with Democratic Senator Chris Coons.
The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. https://t.co/6dsbcBIla6
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 2, 2018