Democrats, in a rebuttal released Saturday to a controversial GOP memo, argued that the Justice Department and the FBI did not abuse their powers when they spied on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The GOP memo, assembled by the staff of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, alleged the FBI and Justice Department officials relied on an unsubstantiated dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele to get a warrant to conduct surveillance of Page.
The dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign to look into Trump’s ties to Russia; the GOP memo alleged that the FBI knew of the partisan agenda behind the dossier but did not alert the surveillance court.
But the Democrats, who have said the GOP document was released earlier this month to divert attention away from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, countered that in their own 10-page, partially redacted memo, saying Page had already been assessed to be an “agent of the Russian government” prior to the FBI receiving the dossier.
President Trump posted on Twitter Saturday evening that the memo is a “total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done,” he said, adding “SO ILLEGAL!”
Per the timeline outlined in the Democratic memo, the FBI decided to start its investigation into Carter in late July 2016. It received Steele’s dossier in mid-September, more than six weeks later.
Additionally, the memo said the initial FISA application in October 2016 and its subsequent renewals provided the rationale behind surveilling Page, who no longer worked with the Trump campaign.
“The FBI had an independent basis for investigating Page’s motivations and actions during the campaign, transition and following the inauguration,” the memo said.
It said the Justice Department made “narrow use” of Steele’s investigation into Page, specifically about Page’s suspected meetings with Russian officials in July 2016.
Additionally, the memo contends that the Justice Department “repeatedly” informed the surveillance court about Steele’s background, credibility and potential bias and was transparent about Steele’s sourcing.
It also states that the department never paid Steele for the dossier. The Justice Department had used Steele as an informant before, which he had received compensation for, but that was for information “unrelated to the FBI’s Russia investigation.”
The release comes after weeks of back and forth over how much of the document would be redacted. The White House on Feb. 9 objected to its release, citing national security concerns. That sent the Democrats back to negotiations with the FBI over how much of the memo needed to be blacked out.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the Democratic response should put to rest “any concerns” people have about the FBI and Department of Justice.
“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 and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” the California Democrat said in a statement.
Nunes, who was speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee meeting, said that he wanted the memo to be released. Indeed, the panel unanimously voted to push it out; it was Trump who blocked the release.
“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,” the California Republican said.
He also charged that the Democratic memo was full of “personal attacks” on him and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
The Democratic memo contends that the GOP document “includes other distortions and misrepresentations that are contradicted by the underlying classified documents.”
It also outlines the creation of the GOP memo, which was released despite objections from DOJ. According to Democrats, the “profoundly misleading memorandum” was drafted in secret on behalf of Nunes, reportedly with guidance and input from Gowdy. Republicans forced a “surprise vote” on the document.
“This was by design,” the memo said. “The overwhelming majority of committee members never received DOJ authorization to access the underlying classified information, and therefore could not judge the veracity of Chairman Nunes’ claims.”
The White House said the Democratic memo attempted to undercut the president, but was released because Trump supported transparency.
“Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority’s memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.