Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee slammed Republicans after the House GOP released the Nunes memo on Friday.
“Chairman Nunes’ decision, supported by House Speaker Ryan and Republican Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to publicly release misleading allegations against the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation is a shameful effort to discredit these institutions, undermine the Special Counsel’s ongoing investigation, and undercut congressional probes,” the committee’s Democrats said in a statement.
“Furthermore, their refusal to allow release of a comprehensive response memorandum prepared by Committee Democrats is a transparent effort to suppress the full truth,” the statement added.
The White House declassified the secret document on Friday, clearing the way for the House to make it public. The GOP moved ahead over the objections of the FBI, the Department of Justice, Democrats, and even a few Republicans.
House Republicans allege the memo reveals that the FBI abused its power in obtaining a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former member of Trump’s campaign team, in 2016. Democrats, meanwhile, have slammed the GOP for trying to politicize the investigation, and for handpicking evidence that supports that case — an attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information that few Members of Congress have seen, and which Chairman Nunes himself chose not to review,” the Democrats said in their statement, adding:
It fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA application and renewals, and ignores why and how the FBI initiated, and the Special Counsel has continued, its counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election interference and links to the Trump campaign. The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the President.
The Nunes memo alleges that the FBI and DOJ relied on allegations in the “Steele dossier” — the document, funded in part by the Clinton campaign, that explores Trump’s possible Russia ties — to obtain a warrant to surveil Page.
The memo claims the political bias behind the document was disguised from the court when the intelligence community sought that warrant, thus tainting the entire Russian investigation. Democrats say that’s not the full story, and that the “that the investigation would persist on the basis of wholly independent evidence had Christopher Steele never entered the picture.”
The Democrats have their own memo
The Democrats, led by the ranking member of the House Intel Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA), drafted their own memo debunking the Nunes document and some of its most explosive claims. House Republicans voted down, along party lines, Schiff’s attempt to release that counter-memo — which means it’s unlikely to be made public.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the ranking member of the Senate Intel Committee — which is leading its own investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — also condemned the release of the memo, calling it “reckless” and demonstrating “an astonishing disregard for the truth” in a statement emailed to reporters.
“Unlike almost every House member who voted in favor of this memo’s release,” Warner added, “I have actually read the underlying documents on which the memo was based. They simply do not support its conclusions.”
Democrats will push back, but Republicans and allies of the president who agree with Trump’s view that the Trump-Russia investigation is a political “witch hunt” are unlikely to be swayed by the Democrats’ insistence that this memo is a politicized and cherry-picked reading of the available intelligence.
Here is the full statement from the Democratic minority of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in response to the memo’s release.
Chairman Nunes’ decision, supported by House Speaker Ryan and Republican Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to publicly release misleading allegations against the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation is a shameful effort to discredit these institutions, undermine the Special Counsel’s ongoing investigation, and undercut congressional probes. Furthermore, their refusal to allow release of a comprehensive response memorandum prepared by Committee Democrats is a transparent effort to suppress the full truth.
As the DOJ emphasized to Chairman Nunes, the decision to employ an obscure and never before used House rule to release classified information without DOJ and FBI vetting was ‘extraordinarily reckless.’ The selective release and politicization of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies. If potential intelligence sources know that their identities might be compromised when political winds arise, those sources of vital information will simply dry up, at great cost to our national security.
The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information that few Members of Congress have seen, and which Chairman Nunes himself chose not to review. It fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA application and renewals, and ignores why and how the FBI initiated, and the Special Counsel has continued, its counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election interference and links to the Trump campaign. The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the President. Tellingly, when asked whether the Republican staff who wrote the memo had coordinated its drafting with the White House, the Chairman refused to answer.
The premise of the Nunes memo is that the FBI and DOJ corruptly sought a FISA warrant on a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, and deliberately misled the court as part of a systematic abuse of the FISA process. As the Minority memo makes clear, none of this is true. The FBI had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant.
In order to understand the context in which the FBI sought a FISA warrant for Carter Page, it is necessary to understand how the investigation began, what other information the FBI had about Russia’s efforts to interfere with our election, and what the FBI knew about Carter Page prior to making application to the court – including Carter Page’s previous interactions with Russian intelligence operatives. This is set out in the Democratic response which the GOP so far refuses to make public.
The authors of the GOP memo would like the country to believe that the investigation began with Christopher Steele and the dossier, and if they can just discredit Mr. Steele, they can make the whole investigation go away regardless of the Russians’ interference in our election or the role of the Trump campaign in that interference. This ignores the inconvenient fact that the investigation did not begin with, or arise from Christopher Steele or the dossier, and that the investigation would persist on the basis of wholly independent evidence had Christopher Steele never entered the picture.
The DOJ appropriately provided the court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including evidence that Russian agents courted another Trump campaign foreign adviser, George Papadopoulos. As we know from Papadopoulos’ guilty plea, Russian agents disclosed to Papadopoulos their possession of stolen Clinton emails and interest in a relationship with the campaign. In claiming that there is ‘no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos,’ the Majority deliberately misstates the reason why DOJ specifically explained Russia’s role in courting Papadopoulos and the context in which to evaluate Russian approaches to Page.
The Majority suggests that the FBI failed to alert the court as to Mr. Steele’s potential political motivations or the political motivations of those who hired him, but this is not accurate. The GOP memo also claims that a Yahoo News article was used to corroborate Steele, but this is not at all why the article was referenced. These are but a few of the serious mischaracterizations of the FISA application. There are many more set out in the Democratic response, which we will again be seeking a vote to release publicly on Monday, February 5th. Unlike Committee Republicans, however, we will ask the relevant agencies to propose any necessary redactions to protect any sources and methods not already disclosed by Chairman Nunes’ document.
It is telling that Chairman Nunes put out this memo without bothering to read the underlying materials, and that he ordered changes to the document without informing his own committee members. It is a terrible lapse in leadership that Speaker Ryan failed to intervene and prevent the abuse of classified materials in this way. It is tragic, if all too predictable, that this President would allow the release of the memo despite FBI and DOJ’s expressions of ‘grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the [Republicans’] memo’s accuracy’. But most destructive of all may be the announcement by Chairman Nunes that he has placed the FBI and DOJ under investigation, impugning and impairing the work of the dedicated professionals trying to keep our country safe.