Democratic memo on Russia probe under White House review
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WASHINGTON — A memo written by Democrats on the House intelligence committee as part of its investigation of Russian election interference was under review Tuesday at the White House, where President Donald Trump will decide whether to allow the public to read it.
Trump last week declassified a document written by the committee’s Republican majority that criticized methods the FBI used to obtain a surveillance warrant on a onetime Trump campaign associate. Trump said the GOP memo showed the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him in the Russia probe.
The Democratic memo, intended as a counter to the GOP document, has deepened a partisan divide on the committee, which is supposed to be jointly investigating Russian meddling and possible connections between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Separate investigations are underway by special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate intelligence committee.
On Monday the House panel voted unanimously to release the Democratic memo, sending it to the White House for a legal and national security review.
“The White House has received a memorandum from the minority members of the House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said after the House intelligence committee’s vote.
She said the Trump administration “will follow the same process and procedure” it did with the Republican document, meaning Trump has five days to decide whether to allow the Democratic memo’s publication.
Trump declared over the weekend that the GOP memo “totally vindicates” him. Both Republicans and Democrats disputed that, and Democrats also bemoaned the release of formerly classified information and the possibility the precedent could compromise future investigations.
After the House committee vote Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the panel’s top Democrat, said he believed the Democratic document would “help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies in the majority memo.” But he also expressed concern about “political redactions” the White House might make before the document is released.
Schiff said he would compare any deletions the FBI and Justice Department might request with any White House edits to try to identify any attempts to withhold information for political purposes.
Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway, a leader of the panel’s Russia probe, said after the vote that parts of the document should not be released.
“There are things in the memo that I would be uncomfortable with if the White House did not redact,” he said.
Tensions between Trump and the Democrats ran high before the vote, as the president and Schiff traded insults on Twitter Monday morning — less than a week after Trump called for more bipartisanship in his State of the Union address.
Trump tweeted that Schiff is “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington” and “must be stopped.”
Schiff quickly shot back: “Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or … really anything else.”
As a second week of memo-watching commenced, the committee was also prepared to interview Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, as part of the Russia probe. But that meeting was put off, according to two people familiar with the committee’s schedule. They declined to be named because the schedule is private.
It was unclear if the House would hold Bannon in contempt. He has been subpoenaed and has now delayed answering the panel’s questions three times as the committee negotiates with his lawyer and the White House over the terms of his interview.
At issue is whether the White House will allow Bannon to answer questions about his time in the Trump administration.
As the committee continues to negotiate Bannon’s interview, Democrats raised questions about whether the committee chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, coordinated with the White House in drafting the GOP memo. After the document’s release last week, the president quickly seized on it to vent his grievances against the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies.
“The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding,” Schiff said, adding that he thinks “it’s very possible” that Nunes’ staff worked with the White House.
Nunes was asked during a Jan. 29 committee meeting whether he had coordinated the memo with the White House. “As far as I know, no,” he responded. He refused to answer when asked whether his congressional staff members had communicated with the White House. He had previously apologized for sharing with the White House secret intelligence intercepts related to an investigation of Russian election interference before talking to committee members.
Trump praised Nunes in a separate tweet Monday, calling him “a man of tremendous courage and grit, may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure!”
The Republican memo released last Friday alleges misconduct by the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Specifically, the memo takes aim at the FBI’s use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing allegations of ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.
The GOP memo’s central allegation is that agents and prosecutors, in applying in October 2016 to monitor Page’s communications, failed to tell a judge that Steele’s opposition research was funded in part by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Page had stopped advising Trump’s campaign sometime around the end of that summer.
The FBI and Justice Department objected to the GOP memo’s release.
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.