U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Sunday that newly released documents about the origins of an investigation of a former adviser's links to Russia help vindicate his claim that U.S. government investigators were spying on his 2016 election campaign.
He contended in Twitter remarks that "as usual," the documents "are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of 'Justice' and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!"
It was not immediately clear how Trump felt the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was misled in the government's four applications in 2016, and last year after Trump took office, to wiretap Carter Page, his one-time aide. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 opponent of Trump's, told CNN that he did not think the Federal Bureau of Investigation "did anything wrong" in surveilling Page.
The FBI said in the first application in October 2016 that it "believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government." After a redacted line, the document picked up with the phrase “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”
Page, who has long denied being a Russian agent, has not been charged with any crime.
On Sunday, he acknowledged to CNN that he played a role in advising the Kremlin about energy issues at a 2013 conference in Russia and gave a school graduation address there in 2016. But he described any allegation that he had been conscripted by Moscow as "so ridiculous it's beyond words. It's literally a complete joke. I've never been an agent of a foreign power."
The applications for the wiretapping were approved on four occasions by the same FISA Court judges, all appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have contended, however, that the FBI bid for the surveillance relied heavily on a dossier about Trump's links to Russia that was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, and paid for by the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump's 2016 challenger.
The documents released late Saturday at the request of several news organizations suggested that the FBI did not rely heavily on information in Steele's dossier.
The FBI told the FISA court that Page “has established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers”; that the FBI believed “the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” Trump’s campaign and that Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”
Trump, in one of four Twitter comments about the documents, said, "Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon [surveillance] for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton" and the Democratic National Committee. "Ask her how that worked out," Trump said, adding that "Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!"
In another tweet, the U.S. leader said the "whole FISA scam" led to the "rigged" criminal investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
For the last 14 months, Mueller and his team of investigators have been probing Trump campaign links to Russia and whether Trump obstructed justice by firing James Comey, a former FBI director, who was heading the agency's Russia probe at the time Trump ousted him, before Mueller was named to take over the investigation.
Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about their links to Russia and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is set to go on trial this week in connection with lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 campaign. In addition, Mueller has indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials in connection with cyberattacks on Democratic computers in the U.S. linked to the 2016 Clinton campaign in an effort to help Trump win.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: "For the sake of our national security and our democracy, these vital investigations must be allowed to continue unhindered by Republican interference. The GOP must cease their attacks on our law enforcement and intelligence communities, and finally decide where their loyalty lies."