Republicans expected to back release of Democrat memo as war of words with Trump intensifies

The White House has said that if the House Intelligence Committee votes to declassify the Democrats’ rival memo, 'we would entertain it like anything else'

Alexandra Wilts
Washington DC
Monday 05 February 2018 21:42 GMT
President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to attack the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee amid the memo controversy.
President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to attack the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee amid the memo controversy. (AP)

The House Intelligence Committee is set to vote on the release of the Democrat rebuttal to a controversial memo alleging misconduct by FBI officials investigating alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

A brouhaha has ensued in the days following President Donald Trump’s approval of the release of the Republican-authored memo, which Democrats have denounced and say will do lasting damage to the intelligence community. The classified rebuttal from Democrat Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Committee, is written to push back against the central allegations of the Republican memo from Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, which claims the FBI wrongfully obtained a surveillance warrant on a former Trump adviser.

With clamour growing for the Democrat-penned document to be published, Mr Trump has accused Mr Schiff of illegally releasing classified information, escalating the row over the Republican memo. The conflict had reached a high point last week when he White House clashed with the FBI and Justice Department, who both opposed the release of the memo. In a rare statement, the FBI said it had "grave concerns" over the accuracy of the Republican document.

The President tweeted on Monday: “Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper! Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!”

He did not elaborate on what Mr Schiff was leaking. The tweet refers to ex-FBI director James Comey, senior Democrat Senator Mark Warner, former CIA director John Brennan and James Clapper, the former US Director of National Intelligence.

Mr Schiff also took to Twitter to fire back a response: “Mr President, I see you’ve had a busy morning of “Executive Time.” Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or...really anything else.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah defended the President’s tweets this morning attacking Mr Schiff, saying that he is “just calling out Adam Schiff” for what the White House sees as “a pattern of leaking and taking confidential information that is presented to them voluntarily and using it for political purposes.”

Mr Shah blamed the Democrats in Congress for a “pattern of leaking” information that is confidential and sometimes classified.

“We don’t really see any reason why anybody else would leak this information other than partisan political stunts by Adam Schiff and other members of the minority,” Mr Shah said.

The Republican memo accuses federal law enforcement officials of abusing their power to get a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) order to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. However, the document would appear to fall short of some Republican claims that it would potentially undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Senate’s top Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer, told Mr Trump in a letter that any effort to block the Democrat rebuttal would “confirm the American people’s worst fears” – that the release of the Republican document was meant to undermine the investigation. Mr Trump has said the memo "vindicates" him in the Russia inquiry. He has repeatedly denied his campaign colluded with the Russia government.

Democrats are hoping to be able to release their 10-page memo, which they say corrects mischaracterisations in the so-called Reublican Nunes memo and adds important context to actions by the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining permission to spy on Mr Page.

Releasing the rebuttal now appears to be gaining bipartisan support, with House Speaker Paul Ryan indicating he favours the move, as long as the memo has been scrubbed of sensitive national security information. Republicans on the House committee are expected to vote to allow the memo to be released.

The White House has said that if the House Intelligence Committee votes to declassify the Democrats’ rival memo, “we would entertain it like anything else.” Like last week with the Republican document, Mr Trump would have five days to approve or object to the declassification.

The memo controversy has overshadowed more pressing legislative issues, including another deadline to fund the government and a potential fix for a programme that grants deportation reprieves to illegal immigrants brought to the US as children – so-called Dreamers.

Instead, the airwaves have been filled with claims and counter-claims. On the day the Nunes memo was released, Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee called the Republican-authored document a “shameful effort to discredit” the FBI, the Justice Department and Mr Mueller’s investigation.

One of the major elements of the Nunes memo is that the FBI relied on a controversial dossier - compiled by former MI6 operative Christopher Steele to obtain the FISA warrant against Mr Page.

Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who advised the Republican committee staff members who drafted the memo, said that he saw no substantive connection between the Nunes memo and the Russia investigation.

“I actually don’t think it has any impact on the Russia probe,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

“There is a Russia investigation without a dossier,” he added.

While Mr Trump has tried to cast doubt on the origins of the Russia investigation – by suggesting it was politically biased from the start – the Nunes memo confirmed that the Russia inquiry was already underway before law enforcement officials presented the Trump-Russia dossier to obtain the warrant to spy on Mr Page.

In another tweet on Monday, the President praised Mr Nunes, calling him a “Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure”.

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