WASHINGTON - A controversial memo alleging FBI investigators abused their powers in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is “embarrassingly flawed,” the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee said Saturday.
The memo released by the House Intelligence Committee “is a disgrace,” Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler said in a response to the document that has obsessed the U.S. political world this week. “House Republicans should be ashamed.”
Nadler’s six-page memo, addressed to his Democratic colleagues and obtained by television news networks, said the document — known as “the Nunes memo,” produced by House Republican Devin Nunes, chairman of the Intelligence Committee — “is deliberately misleading and deeply wrong on the law.”
The memo, released to the public Friday, alleges that the FBI overstepped its authority in obtaining a surveillance warrant for an aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The Nunes memo says the FBI relied heavily on a dossier of information assembled by Christopher Steele, a Russia expert and former British spy, for the campaign of Trump rival Hillary Clinton, via the law firm Perkins Cole and the research firm Fusion GPS.
The release of the memo intensified the battle between Trump and his Republican allies in Congress on one side and Democrats and top FBI officials on the other about whether the probe into Russian interference in the presidential election was affected by political bias on the part of investigators.
In his rebuttal, Nadler said the Republicans failed to show that the FBI relied substantially or solely on the dossier in question. Further, he said, “the Nunes memo does not provide a single shred of evidence that any aspect of the Steele dossier is false or inaccurate in any way.”
New Trump tweets
Joining the furor Saturday evening, President Trump, who is spending the weekend at his Florida golf resort, tweeted quotes of an editorial that appeared a day earlier in the Wall Street Journal. It said, in part, “The four page memo released Friday reports the disturbing fact [misquote in tweet; WSJ said “reports disturbing facts”] about how the FBI and FISA [in WSJ, “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” was spelled out] appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath.”
Trump did not quote a later paragraph in the editorial, in which the Wall Street Journal called for the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo.
“Democrats are howling that the memo, produced by Republican staff, is misleading and leaves out essential details,” the Journal said. “By all means let’s see that, too. President Trump should declassify it promptly.” The editorial also called for release of a referral for criminal investigation of the dossier’s author.
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that the disputed Republican memo “totally vindicates” him, despite a contrary view by most Democrats.
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” the president tweeted Saturday morning. “But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their [sic] was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted back at the president, saying, “Quite the opposite, Mr. President. The most important fact disclosed in this otherwise shoddy memo was that FBI investigation began July 2016 with your advisor, Papadopoulos, who was secretly discussing stolen Clinton emails with the Russians.”
A significant part of the document focuses on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants that permitted FBI surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, a businessman with interests in Russia.
There had been concerns about Page’s alleged contacts with Russian intelligence agents.
The memo asserts that the dossier was an “essential part” of the FISA application on Page.
?FBI, DOJ response
After the memo’s release, the FBI on Friday re-issued its statement from earlier this week, saying the agency “takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals.”
The FBI noted it was given “limited opportunity” to review the document before lawmakers voted to release it.
“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the agency said.
Rep. Nunes issued a statement Friday expressing hope that the actions of Intelligence Committee Republicans would “shine a light” on what he called “this alarming series of events.”
“The committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes,” Nunes said. “Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions weighed in on the memo’s release Friday, saying, he has “great confidence in the men and women of this Department (of Justice). But no department is perfect.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray told agency employees Friday that he stood with them after the release of the memo.
“I stand by our shared determination to do our work independently and by the book,” Wray said in a statement to 35,000 FBI staff members.