The two top Democrats in Congress have called for the removal of House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes in the latest development in a fierce, partisan battle over the chairman's classified memo.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have sent letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan alleging that Mr Nunes engaged in "dangerous" and "illegitimate” actions, and asking the Speaker to remove Mr Nunes from his role.
Mr Nunes, a Republican, recently authored a memo alleging the FBI had relied on an opposition research dossier paid for by Democrats to obtain a warrant to surveil the Trump presidential campaign. Democrats claim the memo is an attempt to discredit the Justice Department investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.
The Democratic leaders urged Mr Ryan to intervene in the debate on Thursday, three days after the House Intelligence Committee decided in a party-line vote to send the memo to President Donald Trump for review.
"It is long overdue that you, as Speaker, put an end to this charade and hold Congressman Nunes and all Congressional Republicans accountable to the oath they have taken to support and defend the Constitution, and protect the American people," Ms Pelosi wrote in her letter. "The integrity of the House is at stake."
Mr Schumer sent a separate letter to the Speaker, expressing his "deep concern" that House Republicans "have not taken credible action to fully address Russia's meddling in US elections and prevent future Russian cyber-attacks". He also submitted a long list of questions about the panning and drafting of the memo, as well as Mr Nunes's credibility.
Responding to questions about the letters on Thursday, Mr Ryan told reporters that the Democrats were "just playing politics".
"I think they're looking for a political distraction, is what I get out of that," he said, before pivoting to tout Republican legislative achievements.
Mr Trump has recently signalled his intent to release the memo to the public, telling a House Republican on Tuesday that he would “100 per cent” do so. The President is also said to have told those around him in recent days that the memo could help discredit the federal Russia investigation by exposing bias within the agency, according to CNN.
But Democrats on the Intelligence Committee claimed on Wednesday that the version of the memo sent to Mr Trump for review was “materially different” than the version approved by the committee. Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff demanded the immediate withdrawal of the document sent to the White House and a new vote on its release.
A spokesman for Mr Nunes called the claim a “bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo”.
The FBI also warned against releasing the memo on Wednesday, citing "grave concerns" about the document’s accuracy. The FBI Agents Association later released a statement in solidarity with the agency's director.
“The FBI Agents Association appreciates FBI Director Chris Wray standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the FBI as we work together to protect our country from criminal and national security threats," the association wrote on Twitter.
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