Monday 19 February 2018

FBI in public spat with Trump over Russia probe memo release

The document is part of an effort to reveal what Republicans claim were surveillance abuses by the FBI and the justice department in the early part of the inquiry.

Mr Trump is keen for the memo to be released
Mr Trump is keen for the memo to be released

By Chad Day, Jonathan Lemire and Eric Tucker

A public clash between the US president and the FBI is simmering after the agency said it had “grave concerns” over the accuracy of a classified memo on the Russian collusion probe which Donald Trump wants to be released.

The FBI’s statement, its first on the issue, laid bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out behind closed doors in meetings between top US justice department and White House officials.

“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the statement reads.

The White House said that a separate dispute with House Democrats over edits made to the memo will not affect the timeline of a national security and legal review of the document.

The senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee said the body’s vote to release the memo was now invalid because the document had been “secretly altered” by the Republicans who wrote it.

California congressman Adam Schiff said in a letter to House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the panel voted on Monday to send the memo to Mr Trump for review.

A spokesman for Mr Nunes said the changes were “minor edits to the memo, including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by the minority themselves”. He added that the documents were “procedurally sound”.

Mr Trump has five days following the vote to review the document. If he does not object, then US congress can release it. Mr Trump himself has urged the release of the memo. Mr Schiff has called on Nunes to withdraw it from the White House and for the committee to hold a new vote next Monday.

The memo is part of an effort to reveal what Republicans claim are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the justice department in the early stages of the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

The FBI’s stance on the memo escalates the dispute and means Mr Trump would be openly defying his hand-picked FBI director by continuing to push for its disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI chief Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago sacked his predecessor, James Comey.

The FBI statement came the day after Mr Trump was overheard telling a congressman that he “100%” supported the release of the four-page memo.

Democrats have called the memo a “cherry-picked” list of Republican talking points that attempts to distract from the committee’s own investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Mr Trump to the White House.

The drama comes as special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI chief, also investigates whether the Trump campaign improperly co-ordinated with Russia during the campaign, and whether Mr Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Mr Comey.

Press Association

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