US Democrats memo defends Trump-Russia probe
Democrats on the US House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released a long-awaited rebuttal to Republican allegations that the FBI had abused government surveillance powers in its probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The Democrats' memo release comes after two weeks of back-and-forth with the Justice Department (DOJ) over how much the memo would be redacted. On February 9, President Donald Trump himself blocked the memo's release, citing national security concerns. That forced Democrats to discuss how much more of the document needed to be blacked out.
The 10-page memo effectively defends the FBI's and DOJ's right to obtain surveillance warrants targeting Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign and alleged Kremlin agent.
"FBI and DOJ officials did not 'abuse' the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign," the Democrats' text said.
"In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government."
The text disputes an earlier Republican memo, drafted by GOP congressman Devin Nunes, that accused investigators working for the FBI and DOJ of anti-Trump bias. The accusation center on the use of intelligence provided by ex-British spy Christopher Steele to obtain a warrant to monitor Page. It was later revealed that Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee had partially funded Steele's report.
Memo release fans bipartisan flames
Trump and his administration were quick to take aim at the Democrats' memo in a statement released on Saturday.
Responding to the memo release, Trump tweeted that the text was "a total political and legal bust," adding that it "confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!"
Saturday's release came as Nunes was addressing the Conservative Political Action
He went on to accuse the Democrats of "advocating that it's OK for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against the other campaign."
However, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, defended the memo's release, saying, "The FBI had ample reason to believe that Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power based on his history, including the fact that he had previously been a target of Russian recruitment, his travel to Russia and other information."
Schiff had also criticized Trump for readily praising the Republicans' memo, even alleging that it vindicated him from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, while opting initially to block his rival party's text.
dm/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)