World

Trump declassifies intel on Russia probe

Democrats say Trump’s allies hope to use the memo to protect the president. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and his Republican allies Friday escalated a campaign against U.S. law enforcement agencies over their probe into Russia by making public a classified memo that the FBI had sought to keep under wraps. As soon as Trump declassified the four-page memo, telling reporters its contents told a disgraceful story of bias against him, Republicans on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released it to the public.

The document alleges that the FBI concealed the Democratic ties of a source which the agency used to justify surveillance on a Trump campaign worker. It says a string of senior Justice Department officials signed off on this.

The memo has become a flashpoint in a battle between Republicans and Democrats over Mueller’s probe.

Democrats say Trump’s allies hope to use the memo to protect the president and to give him a reason to fire Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired Mueller and so would be the person to dismiss him, or even Mueller himself.

Asked by reporters if he had confidence in Rosenstein, Trump replied, “You figure that one out.”

“A lot of people should be ashamed,” Trump said of the findings in the document.

The document, commissioned by the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, Devin Nunes, uses the case of investigationsinto Trump campaign aide Carter Page, saying the FBI used a biased source to justify surveillance on him. It alleges that a dossier of Trump-Russia contacts compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and funded in part by U.S. Democrats, formed an “essential part” of requests to a special court to be allowed to conduct electronic surveillance on Page that began in October, 2016.

It says the initial application and subsequent renewal applications, signed off on by various senior Justice Department officials including Rosenstein, did not mention the link between Steele and the Democrats.

It also portrays Steele as biased, saying he “was passionate about him [Trump] not being president.”

The memo largely repeated allegations that Nunes and others had made publicly previously and did not appear to include major surprises.

Two days ago, in a rare public rebuke of the president and Republicans in Congress who were pushing to release the memo, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact” in the document and it should not be made public.

The FBI director, Christopher Wray, was appointed by Trump.

Democrats said the memo cherry picks information.

“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,” Democrats on the House intelligence panel said in a statement.

The Democrats said they hoped to release their own memo responding to the allegations on Feb. 5.

In his swipe at U.S. law enforcement leadership on Twitter Friday, Trump said, “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago.”

He praised “rank and file” FBI employees.

His latest salvo was sure to worsen the president’s frayed relations with agencies that are supposed to be politically independent.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Democratic President Barack Obama, said Trump’s attack on the FBI and Justice Department was the “pot calling the kettle black.”

Seeking to defuse the conflict over the memo, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan backed the release of a Democratic counterpoint document. His office said he backed making the Democrats’ rebuttal public if it does not reveal intelligence gathering sources or methods.

Democrats say their countermemo restores context and info left out of the Republican version.

Republicans have resisted releasing that document.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 03, 2018, on page 1.

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