News analysis

Controversial memo deepens divisions, drags FBI deeper into partisan politics

Leading Republicans, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, have insisted that the internal memo has nothing to do with an FBI investigation into possible links between figures in the Trump campaign team to Russia. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The release of a contentious internal memo of the House Intelligence Committee has further fuelled bitter partisan rancour in Washington.

Leading Republicans, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, have insisted that the memo has nothing to do with an FBI investigation led by a Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, into possible links between figures in the Trump campaign team to Russia.

But most analysts see it as aimed precisely at tarnishing the investigation.

"The President and his defenders are going to use this memo as a way to paint the entire Mueller investigation as illegitimate and corrupt," New York-based Republican strategist and commentator Evan Siegfried told The Sunday Times.

Some analysts expect that it may even lead to the president firing Mr Mueller. Others, however, think that the president may hold back from going that far, as such an action would invite a more serious political backlash.

Several top Democratic Party figures in a letter to President Trump, said they were "alarmed by reports that you may intend to use this misleading document as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in an effort to corruptly influence or impede Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation."

They warned that firing Mr Mueller or Mr Rosenstein would create a "constitutional crisis." Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary, Mr Raj Shah, however told CNN there was no intention to fire Mr Rosenstein.

The four-page memo titled Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, dated Jan 18 and written by staffers for Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, is grist to the conspiracy mill. The more right-wing Trump supporters believe that a so-called "deep state" in Washington continues to conspire to bring President Donald Trump down.

The term "deep state" generally refers to secretive elements of a country's security and bureaucratic establishments working to undermine the legitimate government.

The memo contends that the FBI and Department of Justice used information from a dossier on Mr Donald Trump - compiled by a former British spy commissioned by a research firm called Fusion GPS - to obtain surveillance warrants in 2016 for former Trump campaign adviser Mr Carter Page, and that they did not inform the court that granted the warrant that the Democrats had funded the dossier.

In other words, it contends that the FBI's surveillance on Mr Page was politically motivated.

Yet the memo itself is undermined by the fact that it is a Republican product, written by a Congressman known to be very partisan.

It also does not have other information the FBI apparently submitted to the court. And while it suggests - or is being interpreted as such by many Republicans - that the Carter Page case was the basis for the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties with Russia, that is not the case.

The memo "fails to provide vital context and information about that process," contended Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Even Mr Ryan in a statement insisted that the concerns outlined in the memo were legitimate, but conceded that a "counter memo" apparently written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee should also be released.

Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray - a Trump appointee - in an e-mail to his colleagues referring to "talk on cable TV and social media," wrote: "Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure."

"I'm determined to defend your integrity and professionalism every day," he added.

Not all Republicans approve of the direction the saga is taking. In a statement, Senator John McCain said: "The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests.

"The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded."

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