Intelligence panel votes unanimously in favour of publicly releasing the Democratic rebuttal to President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans' claims that the FBI abused its powers while investigating his presidential campaign.
The House intelligence committee's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election spun further into charges and counter-charges among angry US lawmakers and President Donald Trump as the panel voted to release a second classified memo about whether the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him.
This memo was written by Democrats on the panel who are pushing back against a GOP document, declassified by Trump last week, that criticises the methods the FBI used to obtain a surveillance warrant on a onetime Trump campaign associate.
The Democrats' document attempts to counter some of the arguments and evidence put forward by the Republicans.
The battle of classified memos has further deepened the partisan divide on the committee, which is supposed to be jointly investigating the Russian meddling and possible connections between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign.
It also takes attention from the separate investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate intelligence committee.
Trump said over the weekend that the GOP memo "totally vindicates" him.
This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2018
Both Republicans and Democrats disputed that. Democrats also bemoaned the release of formerly classified information and the possibility the precedent could compromise future investigations.
After the House committee's Monday evening vote, which was unanimous, Representative 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 said he was concerned about "political redactions" the White House might make before its release.
The president now has five days to decide whether to allow the material's publication.
Schiff said he would compare any deletions the FBI and the Department of Justice 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.
Tensions between Trump and the Democrats were 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.
Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper! Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2018
Schiff quickly shot back:
Mr. President, I see you’ve had a busy morning of “Executive Time.” 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. https://t.co/lVqQRu2Gjl— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 5, 2018
White House spokesman Raj Shah said merely that consideration of a release would "allow for a legal review, national security review led by the White House counsel's office."
Trump ties to Russia
The Republican memo released last Friday alleges misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Department of Justice in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) 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 underlying materials that served as the basis for the warrant application were not made public.
Even as Democrats described that memo as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited it – released over the objections of the FBI and justice department – in their arguments that the FBI investigation that Mueller inherited is politically tainted.
Still, some Republicans, including Rep Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have said the memo should not be used to undermine Mueller's probe.
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 the campaign sometime around the end of that summer.
Steele's research, according to the memo, "formed an essential part" of the warrant application. But it's unclear how much or what information Steele collected made it into the application, or how much has been corroborated.