Memo Alleging FBI Abuse Released on Trump's Okay
The U.S. Congress released a Republican memo Friday alleging bias in FBI investigations into Donald Trump's election campaign, moments after the president authorized the explosive move.
"What's happening in our country is a disgrace," Trump said, announcing that he had declassified the memo drafted by Republican Congressman and former Trump transition team official Devin Nunes.
"A lot of people should be ashamed," added Trump, who earlier Friday accused the leaders of the Justice and FBI of politicizing their investigation in favor of the Democrats.
"So I sent it over to Congress. They will do what they're going to do. Whatever they do is fine. It was declassified, and let's see what happens."
The move set up an extraordinary confrontation with the country's top law enforcement authorities, and triggered speculation that FBI Director Christopher Wray would step down just six months into the job.
Trump's critics allege the memo is designed to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of his campaign's ties with Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously agree tried to tilt the election in his favor.
Based on classified materials, the four-page document claims that the FBI used an unsubstantiated, Democratic-funded research report to obtain a warrant in 2016 to surveil Trump advisor Carter Page, who had extensive Russian contacts.
The FBI had warned that the memo, crafted by Nunes as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, contained "material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
But Trump lashed out hard at the leaders of the FBI and Justice Department as he prepared to declassify the document.
"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," he tweeted.
The president called the alleged bias "something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!"
- Memo's release -
The document, which has circulated among many members of Congress, was based on the highly classified, much larger record of the application to obtain a so-called FISA national security warrant in 2016 to surveil Page.
Democrats have sought approval for the release of their own counter-memo that argues Nunes simplified and "cherry-picks" facts to distort what happened.
Directly in the firing line were Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, all chosen last year for their jobs by Trump.
Sessions has stayed out of the fray, but Rosenstein, who directly oversees Mueller's Russia investigation, and Wray have battled Nunes and the White House over the memo since the beginning of the year.
Democrats allege that the ultimate target is Rosenstein, the sole person able to fire Mueller.
Rosenstein and Wray this week lobbied Trump's chief of staff John Kelly, and Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, against the release.
On Tuesday the FBI issued an extraordinary public warning that it had "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
On Thursday, however, Ryan backed Nunes, characterizing the release as an act of transparency and a defense of American civil liberties.
"This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice," Ryan said.
- Republican senators uneasy over fight -
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and the author of the still-secret counter-memo, rejected Ryan's explanation, citing the president's own Friday tweet.
Speaking to CBS Friday morning, Schiff said the president's tweet made plain that the memo's release was "designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI -- to undermine the investigation; to give the president additional fodder to attack the investigation."
"It's a tremendous disservice to the American people, who are going to be misled by this -- by the selective use of classified information."
Not all Republicans were on board, however. Four senior Republican senators, including John Thune, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, expressed their unease about Nunes' use of intelligence in a political battle.
"The president's apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts, politicizing Congress' oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government," Flake said in a joint statement with Democratic Senator Chris Coons.