A Democrat-funded opposition research dossier was only a narrow part of the FBI’s justification for obtaining a warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign official, congressional Democrats said in their long-awaited memo on the process that led to the snooping.
The memo, released Saturday afternoon and debated on Sunday’s political talk shows, says the FBI opened an investigation into suspected ties between the Trump campaign and Russia before it obtained the so-called Steele dossier, a salacious and largely unverified document produced by a former British spy with funding from the Democratic National Committee.
The memo, intended to rebut a release from the Republican majority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, says former Trump aide Carter Page was targeted for recruitment by a Russian operative at a date that is redacted from the document, and efforts to recruit Mr. Page continued.
The contacts were so striking that the FBI interviewed Mr. Page in March 2016, at about the time he was taking a role in the Trump campaign — though surveillance of him under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant didn’t begin until months later, after he had left the campaign.
Mr. Page “was of interest for his connections to the Russians for years before October 2016” and “had all sorts of contact” with them, Rep. James A. Himes, Connecticut Democrat and an intelligence committee member, pointed out on “Fox News Sunday.”
But many of the key details justifying the surveillance are redacted from the memo, so the extent of the evidence beyond the Steele dossier is not clear.
President Trump said Saturday night that he wasn’t impressed with the Democrats’ memo.
“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!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat and author of the memo, said surveillance of Mr. Page produced “valuable intelligence” — though the evidence for that, too, is redacted.
Late Saturday, Mr. Trump called into “Justice With Judge Jeanine” on Fox News and told host Jeanine Pirro that the Democrats’ memo “was nothing” and that Mr. Schiff was a “bad guy” who selectively leaks for political purposes.
“You see, this Adam Schiff has a meeting and leaves the meeting and calls up reporters, and then all of a sudden they’ll have news, and you’re not supposed to do that. It’s probably illegal to do it,” Mr. Trump said. “You know, he’ll have a committee meeting, and he’ll leak all sorts of information. You know, he’s a bad guy.”
On Sunday, Mr. Schiff said such criticism was unsurprising.
“I’m not surprised the president doesn’t like it,” he told CNN. “I’m not surprised, frankly, that the White House tried to bury this memo response as long as they could.”
Democrats: FBI told court of bias
Personalities aside, perhaps most important to the ongoing dispute over Christopher Steele, the Democratic memo says that the Justice Department didn’t conceal his background and potential bias and laid it all out for the judges on the secret court who approved the warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The memo quotes from the application: “The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person [who funded the dossier] was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit [Mr. Trump]’s campaign.”
Mr. Schiff said the memo should put to rest the issues Republicans raised over the way the Obama administration obtained, and the Trump Justice Department continued, surveillance on Mr. Page.
“Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” Mr. Schiff said.
The White House rejected an original version of the Schiff memo, saying it revealed too much classified information that could give away key intelligence sources and methods. On Saturday, the White House approved the redacted version that was then quickly released.
Republican criticism of memo
Nevertheless, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the new memo “politically driven.”
“The FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier that was a basis for the Department of Justice’s FISA application. In addition, the Minority’s memo fails to even address the fact that the Deputy FBI Director told the Committee that had it not been for the dossier, no surveillance order would have been sought,” Mrs. Sanders said.
That last point was a reference to testimony from Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who, according to Republicans, told the intelligence committee last year that the dossier was critical to their case.
Mr. Himes pushed back on that front Sunday and said Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and author of the intelligence panel’s initial memo, was speaking from ignorance on the matter.
“I was in the room,” Mr. Himes said Sunday. “Devin Nunes was not in the room when Andrew McCabe was interviewed, and I will tell you that he did not say that. He did not say that a FISA warrant would not have been requested but for the Steele information.”
Mr. Nunes, chairman of the intelligence committee, told activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend that the Democratic memo was “clear evidence that Democrats are not only trying to cover this up but they are also colluding with parts of the government to help cover this up.”
He said the Schiff memo didn’t undercut any of the Republican memo.
“What you will basically read in the Democratic memo — they are advocating that it is OK for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against the other campaign, and I don’t care who you are, a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, in the United States of America that is unacceptable,” Mr. Nunes said.
Mr. Nunes was at CPAC to accept an award for his role in heading the intelligence committee.
Comey email probe cited
On Sunday, Mr. Himes denied that the FBI and Justice Department were biased against the Trump campaign. He noted that then-Director James B. Comey made multiple public statements about the bureau’s investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that appeared to hurt her chances in the race.
Reaction from Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill echoed Mr. Schiff’s contention that Mr. Nunes’ effort was crafted to undermine the credibility of the Justice Department, the FBI and especially special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian election meddling.
“Americans deserve an accurate picture of the actions taken by the FBI, which were fully appropriate and entirely lawful,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
“This memo makes clear that there is no reasonable basis to suggest otherwise, except to undermine the special counsel’s investigation. Now that the Nunes memo has been thoroughly debunked, the White House and its allies in Congress must put a stop to the dangerous partisan sideshows that jeopardize classified sources and methods and focus on Russia’s unprecedented interference in our election, which is a real and ongoing threat to our national security,” he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, added, “it is imperative that Republicans in Congress end their political charades.”
• Seth McLaughlin and Dave Boyer contributed to this article.
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