Trump approves release of secret memo in fight over Russia probe
President Donald Trump and his Republican allies on Friday escalated a campaign against U.S. law enforcement agencies over their probe into Russia by making public a classified memo that the FBI had sought to keep under wraps.
The document, drawn up by congressional Republicans, alleges bias against Trump at the FBI and Justice Department in the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Ignoring a plea from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Trump approved the release of the memo, deepening an extraordinary showdown between the president and senior law enforcement officials over a probe that has dogged him during his first year in office.
Trump declassified the four-page memo, telling reporters its contents told a disgraceful story of bias against him, and Republicans on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released it to the public.
The document has become a flashpoint in a battle between Republicans and Democrats over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's criminal probe into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 election.
Democrats say the memo uses cherry-picked classified information, and they believe Trump's allies might use it to give him a reason to fire U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired Mueller, or even Mueller himself.
Asked on Friday by reporters if he had confidence in Rosenstein, Trump replied, "You figure that one out."
The document alleges the FBI concealed the Democratic ties of a source the agency used to justify surveillance on a former Trump campaign worker. It says a string of senior Justice Department officials signed off on this.
"A lot of people should be ashamed," Trump said of the findings in the document.
Trump has repeatedly complained about Mueller's investigation, denying any collusion or obstruction of justice. Moscow has denied any election meddling.
In a tweet on Friday, Trump accused top U.S. law enforcement officers - some of whom he appointed himself - of politicizing investigations.
It was his latest attack on top justice officials. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey last May. Comey later told a congressional hearing that he believed his removal was an effort by Trump to undermine the Russia probe.
Senator John McCain, who is regarded as a heavyweight in Congress on foreign affairs, strongly criticized his fellow Republicans and Trump for attacking the FBI and the Justice Department.
"If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him," McCain said in a statement on Friday, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The document, commissioned by the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, Devin Nunes, uses the case of investigations into Trump campaign aide Carter Page, saying the FBI used a biased source to justify surveillance on him.
It alleges that a dossier of Trump-Russia contacts compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and funded in part by U.S. Democrats, formed an “essential part” of requests to a special court to be allowed to conduct electronic surveillance on Page that began in October 2016.
It says the initial application and subsequent renewal applications, signed off on by various senior Justice Department officials including Rosenstein, did not mention the link between Steele and the Democrats.
It also portrays Steele as biased, saying he “was passionate about him (Trump) not being president.”
The memo largely repeated allegations that Nunes and others had made publicly previously and did not appear to include major surprises.
Two days ago, in a rare public rebuke of the president and Republicans in Congress who were pushing to release the memo, the FBI said it had "grave concerns about material omissions of fact" in the document and said it should not be made public.
In his swipe at U.S. law enforcement leadership on Twitter on Friday, Trump said, "The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago."
James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Democratic President Barack Obama, said Trump's attack on the FBI and the Justice Department was the "pot calling the kettle black."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated he planned to refer the allegations against the Justice Department and the FBI in the Republican memo to the department’s inspector general for investigation.
Democrats said the memo released on Friday used only partial information.
"The selective release and politicization of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies," Democrats on the House intelligence panel said in a statement.
The Democrats said they hoped the committee would vote on Monday to release their own memo responding to the allegations.
The entire file that the Justice Department used to apply for permission to eavesdrop on Page remains highly classified, making it hard to evaluate the memo’s contents.
While the memo focuses on an October 2016 court application for electronic surveillance of Page, it omits the fact that Page appeared on the FBI’s radar screen much earlier, when he met in 2013 with Russians in New York who were officers of the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence service. There was no evidence that Page knew the people were Russian intelligence officers but the contacts raised FBI suspicions.