Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.
Late Saturday afternoon, Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee released a partially redacted version of their memo countering claims from the committee’s Republicans that the intelligence community under the Obama administration abused its powers in surveilling a former member of President Trump’s campaign.
The memo, drafted by ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), says the FBI and DOJ did not abuse their powers, as Republicans have claimed. Instead, the Democratic memo says, the surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was justified because he was “someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”
A statement from Schiff said the memo “should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]. Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement.”
The Republican memo was released three ago as Trump allies ramped up their criticism of FBI in what appeared to be an effort to undermine the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the presidential election. Drafted by staff of Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the document attempted to argue that the investigation into the Trump campaign was fueled by political bias in 2016, because the surveillance warrant sought by the Obama administration’s FBI was based on opposition research in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer on the payroll of Trump’s political opponents.
The Democratic memo took aim at the Republican memo’s implication that Justice Department misled the court by not disclosing that its surveillance application for Page drew from a Clinton campaign-funded opposition research project. It was quickly reported after the release of the Nunes memo that the FBI did include an indication in its application that a source for information in its warrant — now known to be ex-British spy Christopher Steele — was working for a law firm with a political agenda. Schiff’s memo provides more detail on exactly what the warrant told the FISA court about the political goals of its source’s research:
Additionally, the Democratic memo asserts in a heavily redacted section, the FBI verified parts of the Steele dossier with “multiple independent sources.” It also revealed that Steele’s research didn’t make it to the FBI team investigating Russia until mid-September 2016, more than seven weeks after the initial probe into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia was launched.
The Democratic memo refuted other claims in Nunes’ memo — some of which had already been rebutted by outside reporting or even by evidence put forward by the Republican memo itself. It references former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, who had pleaded guilty in Mueller’s probe to lying to FBI agents about Russian contacts. It was previously reported that Papadopoulos’ drunken bragging to Australian diplomats about his contacts with Russia kicked off the initial FBI probe. Democrats, in their memo, take issue with how the Republicans described the mention of Papadopoulos in the Page FISA warrant.
President Trump initially blocked the release of the Democratic memo, saying it was “very political” and “contains many sources and methods” that should not be revealed. After lawmakers negotiated with the White House on redactions, the memo was finally released on Saturday. Trump swiftly approved the release of the Republican memo in early February— despite the FBI and DOJ warning that it “contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative.”
Read the full Democratic response to the Nunes memo below: