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Democrats, some GOP lawmakers criticize release of Nunes memo

by Dartunorro Clark /  / Updated 

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Democrats criticized the release of a previously classified GOP memo on Friday, characterizing its declassification by President Donald Trump as a potential threat to national security and a "shameful" attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and parallel congressional probes.

All nine Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence issued a scathing and lengthy statement calling the memo incomplete, saying it misrepresents the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s alleged 2016 election interference and purported links to the Trump campaign.

"The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the President," the Democrats wrote.

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Despite the strong objections of the FBI and Justice Department, the House Intelligence Committee on Friday released the Republican-written memo, which alleges missteps by the FBI regarding surveillance of one of Trump's campaign aides during the 2016 campaign. The committee's move came after Trump approved the release of the memo without redactions.

The memo was prepared by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The three-and-a-half-page memo is a critique of the FBI's application for surveillance authority before the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which allowed the FBI to conduct secret surveillance on a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.

The Democrats said it was "telling" that Nunes "put out this memo without bothering to read the underlying materials, and that he ordered changes to the document without informing his own committee members." They added that its release also shows a "terrible lapse" in leadership by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Related: Schumer, Pelosi call for Nunes to be removed as House intelligence chair

"The selective release and politicization of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies," they wrote.

"If potential intelligence sources know that their identities might be compromised when political winds arise, those sources of vital information will simply dry up, at great cost to our national security."

Top House and Senate Democrats, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, also slammed the release of memo in a letter to Trump, saying the move could spark a "constitutional crisis."

"We are alarmed by reports that you may intend to use this misleading document as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in an effort to corruptly influence or impede Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation," they wrote.

"We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation. Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ Leadership, or Bob Mueller, could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre."

The group of House Intelligence Democrats also criticized Republicans for thwarting the efforts of Democrats on the committee to release a response to the memo that they say adds additional context to material in the GOP document, calling the move to block it a "transparent effort to suppress the full truth." Republicans previously voted not to release the Democratic rebuttal.

The House Democrats also pushed back on the central allegation of the GOP memo — that the FBI abused their surveillance powers to obtain permission to surveil Page — saying "none of this is true."

"The FBI had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant," they wrote, saying a controversial dossier compiled on Trump by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was not the sole basis for the warrant application.

Image: Adam Schiff
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, at the U.S. Capitol in December.Carolyn Kaster / AP file

The group said they will push for a vote again on Monday to release their own memo.

Democrats weren't alone in critiquing the memo's release or downplaying its relevance to investigations into possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Thomas O’Connor, the president of the FBI Agents Association, also criticized the memo's release, saying the bureau's agents will not "allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission.”

Related: Some Republicans uneasy with Trump releasing the Russia memo

In a tweet, Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., called the memo's release a "mistake" that "sets a dangerous precedent."

In a series of tweets, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said that the memo raises questions about the FISA application process, but does not undermine Mueller's investigation.

"While this memo raises serious concerns with the FISA process, I have been and remain confident in the overwhelming majority of the men and women serving at the FBI and DOJ," he tweeted. "I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not — in any way — discredit his investigation."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was concerned about the lack of redactions and echoed the objections of the FBI and DOJ.

“Oversight of the intelligence community, the FISA process, and this investigation are far too important to be tarnished by partisanship," she said in a statement.

Former FBI Director James Comey also tweeted against the Republican memo's release, saying it would erode the relationship between the intelligence community and the GOP.

"That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen," he wrote. "For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, also condemned the release of the memo and stressed its national security implications.

“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s," McCain said in a statement.

"The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded," McCain said. "Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

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