Democrats released a redacted memo Saturday that they say rebuts Republican claims that the Justice Department and FBI abused their spying powers in the Russia investigation. The document, a direct counterpart to a Republican memo released earlier this month, was written by Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, and Democratic staff.
The release comes after President Donald Trump told Democrats they would have to redact the document before it could be made public, delaying it by two weeks.
Democrats argued that they needed to release their 10-page memo to clarify what Schiff called “many distortions and inaccuracies” in the Republican memo.
"Some time ago, Republicans on our committee released a declassified memo that omitted and distorted key facts in order to mislead the public and impugn the integrity of the FBI," Schiff said on Twitter Saturday. "We can now tell you what they left out."
Trump tweeted Saturday evening to condemn the Democratic memo, calling it a “total political and legal BUST,” and saying it “confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!”
Schiff quickly responded:
At issue is how the FBI and Justice Department handled applications to surveil former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Republicans claimed in their memo that the agencies failed to inform the courts that those applications were based, in part, on research funded by Democrats.
That research was compiled by former British MI6 intelligence official Christopher Steele and was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The dossier, which alleged several years of Trump-Kremlin links, was first published by BuzzFeed News in January 2017, after security officials had briefed then-president Barack Obama and Trump about it.
Democrats argue in their memo that the FBI and DOJ “did not ‘abuse’” the process to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as Republicans alleged, arguing that the FBI and DOJ “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 Democratic memo says that one indication that Page was suspected of Russia links even before the FBI knew about the Steele dossier was that he was interviewed by the FBI in March 2016, the same month he was named a Trump campaign adviser. The memo also notes Page’s years-long links to Russia, including his time living in Moscow working in the energy sector from 2004 to 2007 and his contact in 2013 with a Russian spy who tried to recruit him.
While the Democratic memo concedes that neither agency disclosed the specific source of funding for the dossier, it denies Republican assertions that the FBI tried to hide the dossier's origin as opposition political research. The memo argues that the FBI stuck by its long-standing practice of protecting the identities of specific American citizens and entities in not naming the DNC or Clinton’s campaign, but notes that it made clear the political context of the dossier’s funding. The memo includes the section of the FISA application in which the FBI and DOJ disclosed this information, one line of which says "the FBI speculates" that the dossier was commissioned "to discredit" Trump's campaign.
The memo also says repeatedly that the information the FBI received from Steele was not the sole basis for the applications to spy on Page. The memo notes that the Department of Justice developed information from "multiple independent sources" corroborating aspects of the Steele dossier. But details of the corroborating information are redacted from the memo.
Additionally, Democrats write that the Steele dossier “played no role” in the FBI’s decision to open an investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the first place. Indeed, the Republican memo admitted as much, stating that the FBI’s investigation began in July 2016 as a result of information regarding George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.
Democrats note that the investigation began “more than seven weeks” before the FBI began communicating with Steele. The document also says that at that point — in September 2016 — the FBI had already opened investigations into others “linked” to the Trump campaign, including Page. The number of other individuals who were under investigation at that time appears to be redacted.
The memo also asserts that the Page surveillance "allowed the FBI to collect valuable intelligence." But most of two paragraphs that further identified that intelligence was redacted.
The Democratic memo says the four judges who approved the requests to monitor Page were appointed by Republican presidents. Although the memo does not name the judges, who serve on the federal bench, it notes that two were appointed by former president George W. Bush, and one each was appointed by former president George H.W. Bush and former president Ronald Reagan.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders criticized the Democrats’ memo in a statement shortly after it was released, calling it “politically driven” and arguing that it “fails to answer serious concerns” raised by the Republican memo.
“As the President has long stated, neither he nor his campaign ever colluded with a foreign power during the 2016 election, and nothing in today’s memo counters that fact,” Sanders said.
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also dismissed the Democratic memo in a statement Saturday. “The American people now clearly understand that the FBI used political dirt paid for by the Democratic Party to spy on an American citizen from the Republican Party,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Saturday that "by initially delaying the release of the memo, the president purposefully silenced any Democratic rebuttal to the fabricated conspiracy theories pushed by Chairman Nunes. Obviously, there is something the president is afraid of.”
Thomas Frank, Mark Seibel, and Sarah Mimms contributed additional reporting to this story.