Democratic Memo Defends Investigation into Alleged Russia-Trump Campaign Links

Heavily redacted document challenges Republican criticism of FBI, DOJ

House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that a Democratic memo released Saturday confirms the FBI acted appropriately during its investigation into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that a Democratic memo released Saturday confirms the FBI acted appropriately during its investigation into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:32am

The FBI investigation into “links between the Russian government and Trump campaign association” was based on “troubling law enforcement and intelligence information” unrelated to a controversial dossier compiled by a former British spy, a Democratic memo released Saturday asserts.

The 10-page memo was a response to a declassified memo compiled by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. — released more than three weeks ago with President Donald Trump’s blessing — that alleged possibly illegal and misleading “interactions with the Foreign Surveillance Court.”

A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant obtained in October 2016 approved electronic monitoring of Carter Page, who was advising the Trump presidential campaign and whose activities had long previously been of interest to U.S. counterintelligence officials.

The Nunes-compiled memo alleged that Justice and FBI officials were not honest with the surveillance court and had omitted “material and relevant information.”

It claimed the law enforcement officials did not tell the FISC judges that former British spy Christopher Steele “was paid over $160,000 by the [Democratic National Committee] and Clinton campaign, via the law firm Perkins Coie … to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.” But while it pointed out the DNC funding, it did not mention that the initial funding to Fusion GPS, the company that had hired Steele, started with the conservative Washington Free Beacon.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Intelligence committee’s top Democrat, had pushed for release of a Democratic response to Nunes’ memo. The White House initially rejected the release of the Democrats’ response, arguing it contained classified material — even though the White House agreed to release the Nunes memo, without any changes, despite objections by the Justice Department and the FBI.

[Latest Twist in Russia Investigation Involves Unnamed Member of Congress]

After Trump blocked release of the Democrats’ memo on Feb. 9, Schiff had issued a statement noting the the Justice Department and the FBI and implored the White House not to release the Nunes memo.

“The White House ignored their concerns and approved the publication of the Republican memo with no redactions even though the action was described by the agencies as extraordinarily reckless and omitting material facts,” Schiff said.

Schiff raised additional objections to the Nunes memo on Saturday.

“Some time ago, Republicans on our committee released a declassified memo that omitted and distorted key facts in order to mislead the public and impugn the integrity of the FBI,” Schiff tweeted Saturday. “We can now tell you what they left out.”

The Democrats’ redacted memo on Saturday described the decision by Republicans on the committee to release its allegations earlier this month against the FBI and the Department of Justice as “a transparent effort to undermine those agencies, the Special Counsel and Congress’ investigations.”

“It also risks public exposure of sensitive sources and methods for no legitimate purpose,” the memo continued.

The Democratic memo also asserted that the FBI and the Justice Department did not abuse the FISA process and “would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”

It alleges that Nunes’ memo drew selectively on highly sensitive classified information and included “distortions and misrepresentations that are contradicted by the underlying classified documents.”

Saturday’s memo also directly challenged assertions in the Nunes memo that material facts were withheld from the FISC judges. “DOJ repeatedly informed the Court about Steele’s background, credibility, and potential bias,” it stated.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Saturday that while the Democrats’ memo attempted to undercut Trump politically, “the President supported its release in the interest of transparency.”

But, she also claimed it failed to answer serious concerns about the use of partisan research, “loaded with uncorroborated allegation, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign.”

Neither the president nor his campaign, she said, “ever colluded with foreign power during the 2016 campaign,” she said.

Trump responded directly to Saturday’s memo with several critical tweets.

“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!,” he tweeted after its release.

Schiff fired back.

“Wrong again, Mr. President,” he tweeted. “It confirms the FBI acted appropriately and that Russian agents approached two of your advisors, and informed your campaign that Russia was prepared to help you by disseminating stolen Clinton emails.”

Watch: What’s Congress’ Role in the Russia Investigation? One Senator Explains

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John T. Bennett and Gopal Ratnam contributed to this report.