U.S. President Donald Trump is sparring with a key Democratic lawmaker over allegations that the FBI engaged in surveillance abuses in 2016 as it sought to win court approval to monitor a Trump aide's contacts with Russia.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN Sunday, "The FBI acted appropriately." His comment came hours after the minority Democrats on the panel released their rebuttal to a memo disclosed three weeks ago by Republicans contending that the law enforcement agency acted improperly in pursuing clandestine surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page.
The Democratic memo pushed back against the Republican claim that the FBI failed to disclose the political motivations of a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial dossier on Trump's links to Russia that was partly used by the FBI in seeking approval from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page.
The Republican memo, crafted by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a California congressman, claimed that the Steele dossier was "an essential part" of the surveillance application submitted to the court without disclosing that it was research paid for by Democrats and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, Trump's 2016 election opponent.
Schiff's memo said there were "multiple sources" supporting the Page surveillance, not just the Steele dossier, and that the FBI had already been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for seven weeks before it learned of the Steele dossier.
In a string of Twitter comments Saturday, Trump said, "The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL! Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were - the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!"
The U.S. leader called Schiff a "total phony" and again disparaged multiple Washington investigations into his campaign's ties to Russia. "This whole Witch Hunt is an illegal disgrace," Trump said, blaming his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for not thwarting Russian meddling in the election.
Schiff said, "I'm not surprised the White House tried to bury this [Democratic] memo as long as they could," saying the Steele dossier was "part of a complete whole." He said the FBI's bid for the surveillance of Page accurately stated that Steele was hired by politically-motivated U.S. entities and that his research appeared to be aimed at discrediting the Trump campaign.
During an interview Saturday with the Fox News program Justice with Judge Jeanine, President Donald Trump said the Democrats' memo was "a nothing."
"Well, all you do is you see this Adam Schiff — he has a meeting, and he leaves the meeting and he calls up reporters. And then all of a sudden they have news and you're not supposed to do that. It's probably illegal to do it,” Trump told the host, Jeanine Pirro.
Schiff and other Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee alleged the Republican version of the story omits and misrepresents facts. They also accused Trump of ignoring concerns about releasing sensitive information when releasing the Republican version of the memo, and holding the Democratic one for political reasons rather than security concerns.
FBI Director Christopher Wray had also expressed concerns about the Republican memo, saying it left out key information.
As the Democratic memo was released, Nunes told a conservative gathering outside Washington, “We wanted it out. We want it out because we think it is clear evidence that the Democrats are not only trying to cover this up, but they’re also colluding with parts of the government to help cover this up. ... What you basically read in the Democratic memo is, they are advocating that it’s OK for the FBI and DOJ [Department of Justice] to use political dirt paid for by one campaign, and use it against the other campaign.”