The House Intelligence Committee released on Saturday a redacted version of a Democrat-authored memo rebutting GOP allegations that federal law enforcement agencies used politically-biased information to conduct surveillance on one of the president’s former campaign aides.
In their now-public retort, Democrats charge that the GOP unfairly attempted to malign the FBI and the Justice Department for including information from the author of a now-famous dossier alleging President Trump had ties to Russian officials in an application to surveil Carter Page, one of Trump’s former campaign advisers.
[Read the Democrats’ memo]
GOP leaders had argued that Page was unfairly targeted because the information from the dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele, was never presented to the surveillance court as having been paid for by Democrats.
But according to the Democrats’ memo, Page’s Russia ties had already captured the attention of federal law enforcement agencies. The FBI interviewed Page about his “Russian intelligence contacts” in March of 2016, the memo states — the same month he was named as a Trump campaign adviser, and months before Steele as hired to conduct research on Trump or first made contact with the FBI.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) responded to the release of a Democrat-written memo defending FBI surveillance at the Conservative Political Action Conference Feb. 24. (The Washington Post)
The court was also told that Steele had been approached by a “U.S. person” who had been hired “to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia,” according to a portion of the surveillance applications containedin the Democrats’ memo.
“The FBI speculates that the U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate 1’s campaign,” the application says.
The memo’s content is the product of about two weeks of negotiations between Democratic members of the committee, as well as the FBI and the Justice Department. According to a committee aide, no new information was declassified in the document — though Democrats on the panel were not expecting it would be released until Monday.
President Trump had argued that making the Democrats’ memo available to the public would reveal intelligence gathering sources and methods.
The 10-page document contains more classified information than the four-page Republican memo to which it responds. Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), had pledged to heed recommendations from the FBI and Justice Department regarding any redactions of sensitive information — something, the Democrats say, the GOP did not do.
But on Saturday, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), accused Democrats of colluding with the government in a “cover up” of information as he announced the memo had been posted online.
“We actually wanted this out,” Nunes told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “It’s clear evidence that the Democrats are not only covering this up, but they’re also colluding with parts of the government to cover this up.”
Democrats bristled when Trump refused to allow their full memo to be made public, accusing him of applying a double standard. He promised to release the Republican memo before he had even read it, according to White House officials and the timing of his public comments.
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Democrats have argued that the information presented in the Republican-drafted memo was “cherry-picked” and lacked important context that they would present in their memo. They have said the GOP is reluctant to allow its release because the rebuttal would undercut the Republicans’ argument.