TrumpWatch, Day 381: Trump v. FBI — Democrats Press for Release of Their Memo

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Ranking Democrat member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, November 30, 2017 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Pro-Trump GOP legislators struggle to maintain campaign against agencies


Developments on Day 381 of the Trump Administration:

[UPDATE, 1345 GMT: Donald Trump, silent on Sunday, has unleashed a bitter attack on the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff; the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner; and former FBI and intelligence directors James Comey, John Brennan, and James Clapper:

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Democrat Document Sets Out Flaws in Nunes Memo

Democrats may be gaining support for release of a 10-page document setting out the flaws in the Nunes Memo, the attempt by an ally of Donald Trump to discredit the FBI and limit or even end the Trump-Russia investigation.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted last Monday to release the four-page memorandum by chairman Devin Nunes, a member of the Trump transition team who had supposedly recused himself last April from Trump-Russia matters after he was caught coordinating “information” — some of it false — with the White House.

At the same time, they blocked the effort by Democrats for simultaneous publication of the document challenging the memo over its omissions and distortions, as well as the risk of revelations of sensitive intelligence and sources.

The Nunes Memo centers on the FBI’s obtaining a warrant in October 2016, from the top-secret FISA court, for the surveillance of Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The memo asserts that the FBI application was based on a 2016 dossier by the private intelligence firm Fusion GPS — commissioned initially by a conservative Republican outlet, but then paid for by the Democratic National Committee — setting out links between Trump, his staff, and Russian officials.

However, the FBI had been monitoring Page since 2013, when it was first suspected that Russian intelligence operatives were trying to recruit him as an agent. The agency says it had multiple strands of intelligence behind the application for the FISA warrants, which also authorized surveillance of Russian officials and entities.

Several Republicans on the Committee, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan, are now indicating that they favor releasing the Democrat memo, provided sensitive national security information is redacted.

The White House was cautious on Sunday. Spokesman Raj Shah said, “Generally speaking, we’re open to considering any document the House Intel Committee submits to us for declassification along the lines that the Nunes memo was considered.”

Representative Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said yesterday:

What we will learn is that it is not true that this FISA warrant was awarded solely on the basis of the Steele dossier. We will also learn that the FBI because they are very careful people, didn’t mislead the judge, that the judge had some sense that this information came out of a political context.

Meanwhile, Republicans scrambled to break the connection between the Nunes Memo and Donald Trump’s long-time efforts to halt the Russia inquiry.

Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, who advised Nunes’ staff as they drafted the memo, said, “I actually don’t think it has any impact on the Russia probe. There is a Russia investigation without [the Fusion GPS] dossier.”

Representative Brad Wenstrup, another member of the committee, said, “In my opinion, what we’re dealing with is a situation within our FISA court and how we process within our government agencies And I don’t think it really has anything to do with that.”

But Donald Trump prepared for the release of the Nunes Memo on Friday by making an explicit link between the publication and his attempt to render the Russia investigation as illegitimate:

Trump reinforced his comments on Saturday, saying the FBI’s approach to the FISA court was “terrible” and a “disgrace”, but he was silent yesterday.

GOP Attacks on FBI Continue

However, while trying to distance from the Russia investigation, Gowdy continued the attacks on the FBI.

The representative insisted that the FBI had failed to tell the FISA court that the Fusion GPS dossier was supported by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign:

They could have easily said it was the DNC and Hillary Clinton. That would have been really easy. It took longer to explain it the way they did than if they just came right out and said, ‘Hillary Clinton for America and DNC paid for it.’ But they didn’t do that.

Like the Nunes Memo, Gowdy did not mention that the dossier was originally commissioned by the conservative Republican outlet Washington Free Beacon.

Both the memo and Gowdy also omitted that the FBI told the FISA court that information in its application had come from a politically-motivated source.

Gowdy tried to separate himself from claims of an attack on the agency by framing his criticism as that of only about “five” FBI personnel amidst the tens of thousands of staff.

Representative Chris Stewart defended Page: “The FBI used that dossier to surveil a private US citizen who had no accusations against him, except for he has associations with the Trump campaign. It’s an absolute abuse of power.”

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