President Is Expected to Release Rival Memo
Posted February 6, 2018 11:52 p.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2018 11:56 p.m. EST
Two leading Senate Republicans released a document late Tuesday that they said bolstered Republican allegations that the Justice Department relied heavily on a politically-tainted dossier in seeking permission from a secret federal court to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide.
The document, a letter sent last month to the FBI and Justice Department by Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, quoted from Justice Department requests to the court to spy in late 2016 and last year on the former aide, Carter Page.
A classified Democratic memo seeks to rebut the Republican accusations of political bias. President Donald Trump is expected to allow that memo to be made public, but is likely to redact parts of it, people close to the White House said.
That decision is certain to anger Democratic lawmakers, who expressed concern on Tuesday that the president would edit the memo — not for national security reasons but to remove parts that he viewed as politically embarrassing or damaging.
The Senate letter accuses the FBI of relying largely on unverified information produced for the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to convince a federal judge of the need to eavesdrop on Page as a possible Russian agent.
The letter said the Justice Department’s initial application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Page, filed in October 2016 after he had left the Trump campaign, “appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations” posed by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent who had been working with a research firm paid by the Democrats. That court approved the surveillance for 90 days, and renewed it three times.
Republicans have said that the so-called Steele dossier was the main justification for the FBI’s investigation into possible Russian influence over the Trump campaign, casting doubt on the inquiry’s legitimacy. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have said that Republicans are distorting the roots of the inquiry in an effort to bolster Trump.
Last week, Trump declassified a memo by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that leveled similar allegations to those posed by Grassley and Graham. Trump, who had a brief window to block the memo’s disclosure on national security grounds, did not ask that any of its substance be redacted.
Administration officials said that Trump had read the Democratic memorandum, which seeks to undermine Republican claims that top law enforcement officials had abused their powers when they sought a warrant to wiretap Page. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to say whether the president intended to handle the matter the same way he did the Republican memo. That document also contained accusations of FBI bias.
But people close to the White House said they anticipated that the president would release the Democratic memo — with parts blacked out — once it went through a national security and legal review.
Sanders said that process “will take several days to complete.” She said Trump met Tuesday afternoon with Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to discuss the Democratic memorandum.
The White House said last week that the Republican memo was reviewed for national security and legal concerns, too, but it was released with no redactions. And Trump was overheard telling a Republican member of Congress that he would “100 percent” release the memo before he had read it.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee and the author of the Democratic memo, said that Trump should not block parts of the document from the public unless it was for national security reasons.
Schiff said on CNN that he was concerned about “political redactions.” “That is, not redactions to protect sources or methods, which we’ve asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to do, but redactions to remove information they think is unfavorable to the president,” he said.
One Republican familiar with the memo’s contents said that there were a number of issues related to the sourcing of information that would have to be blacked out from public consumption.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-S.C., accused Schiff of playing politics with the contents.
“Adam Schiff’s comments about redactions recognize the fact that the Democrat memo was hastily put together and has a number of areas that must be addressed before it’s released to the public,” Meadows said.
He added that he expected Trump to allow it to become public with as few redactions as possible.
House Republicans and Democrats spent Tuesday arguing about the contents of their dueling memos as they awaited Trump’s review.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, introduced a resolution disapproving of the Republican memo and urging Trump to “expeditiously” review and declassify the Democrat’s rebuttal “without any redactions based on political considerations.” The resolution was rejected 236-190, along strict party lines.
House Speaker Paul Ryan again stood by the Republican memo during a news conference, but dodged a question about Trump’s claim that the memo had vindicated him in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“FISA abuse matters to each and every one of us as citizens,” Ryan said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “And if our government abused the FISA process, a unique, selective process, which if mishandled could complicate and compromise on American civil liberties, we should care about that.”