Democrats' memo counters claims on probe

After months of bitter fighting, the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released a heavily redacted memo from Democratic lawmakers, fiercely denying Republican claims of FBI abuse in the ongoing Russia probe.
US President Donald Trump called the memo "a total political and legal bust", while committee chairman Devin Nunes (right) renewed Republican allegations.
US President Donald Trump (above) called the memo "a total political and legal bust", while committee chairman Devin Nunes renewed Republican allegations.
US President Donald Trump called the memo "a total political and legal bust", while committee chairman Devin Nunes (right) renewed Republican allegations.
US President Donald Trump called the memo "a total political and legal bust", while committee chairman Devin Nunes (above) renewed Republican allegations.

Duelling accounts show struggle to try to shape public perceptions

WASHINGTON • The US House Intelligence Committee released a redacted Democratic memorandum countering Republican claims that top FBI and Justice Department officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide.

The 10-page document was intended by Democrats to offer a point-by-point refutation of what it called the "transparent" attempt by President Donald Trump's allies on the committee to undermine the congressional and special counsel investigations into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

But the duelling accounts reflected an extraordinary struggle on the committee to try to shape public perceptions of the credibility of the country's top law enforcement agencies.

For weeks, instead of focusing its full energy on investigating an attack on the US democratic system, the committee has been pulled into a furious effort by Mr Trump and his allies to sow doubts about the integrity of the special counsel inquiry and the agencies conducting it.

The Democratic memo amounted to a forceful rebuttal of the President's portrayal of the Russia inquiry as a "witch hunt" being perpetrated by politically biased leaders of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department.

The latest duel on Capitol Hill comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation gathers steam, including a guilty plea on Friday from Mr Trump's deputy campaign manager Richard Gates.

In a message posted on Twitter, Mr Trump responded: "The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal bust. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. So illegal!"

In a statement, the committee's Republican chairman Devin Nunes renewed his allegations, saying: "The American people now clearly understand that the FBI used political dirt paid for by the Democratic Party to spy on an American citizen from the Republican Party."

"We wanted it out because we think it is clear evidence that the Democrats are not only trying to cover this up, but they are also colluding with parts of the government to help cover this up," Mr Nunes added during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hills, Maryland.

The Democratic memo charges that Republicans deliberately omitted facts from their document that undermine their allegation that the FBI conducted improper surveillance of one-time Trump campaign aide Carter Page, "whom the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government".

The Justice Department's request for a surveillance warrant "was based on compelling evidence and probable cause to believe Page was knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the US", the memo said.

The Democratic memo also disputes a Republican charge that the FBI initiated a counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 based on an unverified dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and paid for by the Democratic National Committee through a law firm.

By then, the memo revealed, "the FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into a (redacted number of) individuals linked to the Trump campaign".

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2018, with the headline 'Democrats' memo counters claims on probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe