“Grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy”
Developments on Day 376 of the Trump Administration:
FBI: “Grave Concerns” About Nunes Memo
The FBI says that a soon-to-be-released memo backed by the Trump Administration, trying to discredit the agency and undermine the Trump-Russia investigation, is “fundamentally” wrong.
Trump ally Devin Nunes, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, has declared for weeks that his staff have compiled a four-page memorandum concluding that the FBI and Justice Department acted inappropriately in seeking warrants from a top-secret Government court for surveillance of Russian officials and a Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page.
The latest attempt by Donald Trump’s allies to block the Trump-Russia inquiry comes amid reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has bolstered a possible obstruction of justice case against the President, as his team investigates a false memo reportedly dictated by Trump for his son Donald Jr. about a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys.
A member of the Trump transition team in late 2016, Nunes has coordinated his moves since last March with the White House. He was forced to recuse himself as chair for the committee’s Trump-Russia hearing after revelations of a meeting on the White House grounds where officials passed him material seeking to establish — falsely — that the Obama Administration wiretapped Trump Tower in summer 2016.
Earlier this week Republicans on the committee, over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department, voted to disseminate the memo.
On Wednesday, the FBI issued a statement, approved by Director Christopher Wray, about the distortions in the document:
[We were] provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.
Trump has carried out a series of steps since spring 2017 trying to block the Trump-Russia inquiry. He has fired FBI Director James Comey. Working with allies such as Fox News, he has applied pressure to discredit and remove Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, threatened to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He has also attacked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the only official with the formal authority to remove Mueller — and told staff that he wants Rosenstein replaced.
Trump has told people close to him that the Nunes memos establishes the case against the FBI and Justice Department over the warrant in October 2016 for surveillance of Page.
The FBI says it followed all proper channels for the warrant. Since 2014, it has monitored Page because of Russian efforts to recruit him as an agent. In spring 2017, Rosenstein approved an extension of the warrant, indicating an ongoing concern.
Democrats have been blocked by Republicans from getting a full review of the document before its release. Late Wednesday night when Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, sent Nunes a letter claiming that the Republicans had made “material changes” to the memo after voting to release it and before they sent it to the White House for review.
Republicans said Schiff’s letter was a “strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo”. Nunes lashed out at the FBI that its objections were “spurious” and accused the FBI and Justice Department of “material omissions” to Congress and the courts:
It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign. Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.
Trump’s allies allege that the FBI approach to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court was based on a dossier collected by the private intelligence firm Fusion GPS which sets out meetings between Trump campaign staff and Russian officials, Moscow’s provision of stolen material damaging Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and Russia’s financial input into the campaign.
The FBI has said that the case for its warrant was not based on the Fusion GPS dossier but on other intelligence, including material from its attention to Page since 2014.
Page visited Moscow in July 2016 and, according to Russian sources, met high-level officials. He was preparing to return in December when investigators obtained the FISA warrant.
Trump to Rosenstein: “Are You on My Team?”
Officials have revealed that Donald Trump asked for loyalty when Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in December sought his assistance in December to block release of the Nunes memo.
Trump waved off the request. Instead, he wanted to know where the Trump-Russia investigation was heading and he asked Rosenstein if he was “on my team”.
The Deputy Attorney General appeared surprised by the questions, sources said. He avoided an answer on the direction of the Russia investigation before saying, “Of course, we’re all on your team, Mr. President.”
Trump also quizzed Rosenstein about his upcoming testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. One source said Trump also suggested questions to Representatives that they could ask Rosenstein.
At the hearing, Rosenstein backed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whom Trump has wanted to dismiss since June 2017. He denied that he had ever been asked for a loyalty pledge by the President.
But Trump’s question to Rosenstein follows a pattern in which he also sought loyalty from FBI Director James Comey, before firing him in May, and from Acting Director Andrew McCabe before seeking his departure.
US Renews Protected Status for 6,000 Refugees But Others at Risk of Deportation
The Trump Administration has renewed Temporary Protected Status for about 6,000 Syrian refugees; however, others remain at risk of deportation.
The Department of Homeland Security said it will not accept new applicants for the TPS program, meaning any Syrian who reached the US after August 1, 2016 could be removed.
Congress created TPS in 1990 as a humanitarian program to shield foreigners from deportation if their counties have been destabilized by conflict, natural disasters, or other calamities.
However, the Trump Administration has sharply curbed the program ending TPS for almost 50,000 Haitians, 200,000 Salvadorans, and Nicaraugans.
Homeland Security officials said they will extend protections for Syrians who possess the permits through September 30, 2019. The Department did not say how many Syrians have reached the US since August 2016.
The US admitted 12,587 Syrian refugees during the 2016 Fiscal Year, but the number dropped sharply with the arrival of the Trump Administration. Admission of refugees has been blocked under Trump’s “Muslim Ban” on entry to the US for citizens from several mainly-Muslim countries.
The State Department records the admission of only two Syrians since January 1, 2018, compared to 1,318 in January 2017.
(Cross-Posted from Syria Daily)