Donald Trump will trigger constitutional crisis if he uses declassified memo to end Russia probe, Democrats warn

Democrats believe President will make use of Nunes memo to undermine investigation

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Sunday 04 February 2018 20:34 GMT
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Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center
Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center (Getty)

Donald Trump will trigger a “constitutional crisis” if he and Republicans seek to use a declassified intelligence memo to try to stop Robert Mueller’s Russia’s probe or fire a senior justice department official, senior Democrats have warned.

As Washington responded to the making public of the so-called Nunes memo, Mr Trump claimed its publication “totally” vindicated him before tweeting that the “Russian Witch Hunt” goes on.

Democrats urged him not to try to use the memo to halt the special prosecutor’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

“To say that that’s the end of the investigation, that this is all that Donald Trump needs to fire [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein or to fire Mueller… I’ll just tell you, this could precipitate a constitutional crisis,” said Senator Dick Durbin, the second most senior Democrat in the Senate.

He told CNN: “If House Republicans believe that they’ve set the stage for this President to end this investigation, they are basically saying that in America, one man is above the law, and that’s not a fact.”

On Friday, the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Congressman Devin Nunes, made public a memo written by committee staff members that alleged the Department of Justice (DoJ) under Barack Obama had improperly obtained a secret warrant to allow the FBI to carry out surveillance on Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Mr Trump’s campaign.

Donald Trump says Nunes memo is declassified and Congress will "do whatever" with it

The memo claimed the DoJ application placed before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court had failed to declare that some of the information used to make the request had been gathered by former British spy Christopher Steele, who had been contracted by a Washington research company that had been paid, first by a wealthy Republican donor and then by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to collect damaging information on Mr Trump.

The memo also acknowledged, however, that the FBI had started its probe several months before it obtained Mr Steele’s “dossier”, having been tipped off by Australian diplomats about another of Mr Trump’s advisers, George Papadopoulos, claiming Russia wanted to provide incriminating material about Ms Clinton.

The publication of the memo came against the backdrop of intense politicisation of Mr Mueller’s probe. The reaction of most people appeared to depend on their political persuasion; Democrats said it was further proof of Republicans’ efforts to derail Mr Mueller, while Republicans claimed it showed abuse by the Obama administration.

When asked if he planned to fire Mr Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Mr Mueller to lead the probe, Mr Trump told reporters on Friday: “You figure that one out.” The White House later felt obliged to say there was no plan to get rid of Mr Rosenstein.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee had prepared their own memo, which they claimed answered many of the Republicans’ claims. The committee is expected on Monday to consider the publication of the Democrats’ document.

California congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, claimed in an article in Esquire that Mr Trump was seeking to seize the FBI for political ends.

“The norms and institutions protecting the Department of Justice from political interference in the years since have been tested, but never before as they are under President Donald Trump,” Mr Schiff wrote.

“What we have witnessed during the first year of the Trump administration is a determined effort to demolish the separation between politics and the fair administration of justice – an attempt to turn the DoJ’s investigative powers into the personal political tool of the President.”

Many Republicans said the publication of the Nunes memo did not end the need for Mr Mueller to be allowed to complete his investigation.

“I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that the special counsel shouldn’t complete his work,” Utah congressman Chris Stewart, a Republican member of the committee, told Fox News.

“I support his work. I want him to finish it. I hope he finishes it as quickly as possible. This memo has frankly nothing at all to do with the special counsel.”

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