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GOP probes put new focus on State

Republicans have former President Obama’s State Department in their crosshairs as they question whether FBI and Justice Department investigations into President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE were tainted by political bias and influence from key figures in Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE's orbit.

Congressional Republicans have signaled that they are looking at whether the State Department, then run by John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states When it comes to Colombia, America is in a tough spot 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 MORE, passed along information from Clinton’s allies that may have been used by the FBI to launch an investigation into whether the Trump campaign had improper contacts with Russia.

A highly redacted criminal referral from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (R-Iowa) to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawyer charged in Mueller probe pleads guilty to lying | Sessions launches cyber task force | White House tallies economic impact of cyber crime Sessions creates cyber task force to study election interference Dopey Russian ads didn't swing voters — federal coverups did MORE offers new clues about the GOP probes.

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In the referral, Grassley writes that former British intelligence official Christopher Steele crafted a memo in addition to the infamous dossier of opposition research on Trump that was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The conservative website Washington Free Beacon used the same opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, for research on Trump before Clinton and the DNC got involved, but that work did not involve Steele.

The memo, dated Oct. 19, was given to Steele by a contact at the State Department and was based on information provided by “a friend of the Clintons,” Grassley said.

The contents of the October memo are redacted and its allegations are unknown, but Grassley said he was troubled that people linked to Clinton were providing Steele with the information. 

“It is troubling enough that the Clinton campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about credibility,” Grassley wrote.

The new GOP focus on the State Department is part of an effort by Republicans to raise questions about the veracity of the information Steele provided to the FBI and about whether Obama administration officials abused their powers in launching investigations into Trump and his aides.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesFive key takeaways from the Russian indictments Shepard Smith: New Mueller indictments prove Russia probe is 'opposite of a hoax' Schiff: 'We're very close to reaching an agreement' with FBI on countermemo MORE (R-Calif.), who has been at the center of GOP arguments that the FBI acted inappropriately, said on Monday that “phase two” of his investigation could focus on the State Department.

“What we’re looking at now is the State Department and some of the irregularities there, and we have several other areas we’re looking at,” Nunes said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”

In a controversial memo released Friday after Trump overruled objections from the FBI, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee alleged that the so-called Steele dossier had been inappropriately used to obtain a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign official and that the FBI and Justice Department had hidden from the surveillance court that the information had been paid for in part by Democrats.

The documents released by Grassley and Nunes’s comments suggest their probes will now open another front with the State Department, suggesting officials there inappropriately circulated information to Steele that was then used by the FBI.

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee say they were surprised to learn that Nunes is probing the State Department and argue that it is a violation of committee rules to launch a formal investigation without the input of the minority.

Speaking on CNN on Monday, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP strategist confronts ex-Trump staffer: ‘I’m sick of you guys making excuses for him’ Shepard Smith goes after Trump for not condemning Russia in tweets Trump: Why didn't Obama 'do something about Russian meddling?' MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, accused Trump and the Republicans of seeking to demonize anyone seeking information about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“This president, like Nixon, has his own enemies list, and anyone involved in the investigation is basically on that list,” Schiff said.

Trump earlier on Monday accused “Little Adam Schiff” of leaking confidential information, saying he was “desperate to run for higher office” and “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”

“Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!” Trump tweeted.

GOP lawmakers are privately buzzing about two longtime Clinton confidants — Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer — as the likely sources for the October memo, which they believe reached Steele through his contact at the Obama State Department, Jonathan Winer.

Speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said that Steele had unilaterally reached out to the State Department because he had become alarmed by what he was learning about Trump.

“Chris had a friend at the State Department and he offered us that reporting free so that we could also benefit from it,” Nuland said. “It was one of, you know, hundreds of sources that we were using to try to understand what was going on.”

“He passed two- to four-pages of short points of what he was finding, and our immediate reaction to that was this is not in our purview,” she continued. “This needs to go to the FBI if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian Federation. That's something for the FBI to investigate. And that was our reaction when we saw this.”

The Washington Post and The Guardian have previously reported on the existence of a possible “second dossier” and the State Department’s contacts with Steele.

The Guardian reported last week on the existence of a second dossier, which it said had been compiled by Shearer, who was known to be close with the Clintons in the 1990s. That story says the FBI is still assessing claims made in Shearer’s memo, claims that are believed to track closely with those in the original Steele dossier, which alleges that Trump is compromised by deep ties to the Kremlin.

The Post had previously reported that Steele had extensive contacts with Kerry’s State Department, which relied on him in an unofficial capacity for intelligence about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The Post reported that Steele sent monthly reports to Winer, who later prepared a summary of the information he’d received from Steele about Trump and briefed Kerry on the findings in the fall of 2016. The Post said that Kerry did not act on the information because the FBI had already been in contact with Steele.

State Department officials quoted in the Post story insisted there was nothing nefarious about the agency’s contacts with Steele. At the time, he was a well-respected intelligence source and had not become the political lightning rod he is today. It is normal for the department to collect information from a range of official and unofficial channels to understand what is happening abroad.

The House Intelligence Committee memo says that the FBI cut Steele loose as an informant after it discovered he had briefed news outlets on his findings about Trump and had divulged to reporters that he was an FBI source.

Republicans are apoplectic, claiming that the FBI and Justice Department sought and received a foreign surveillance warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without revealing that the dossier was paid for in part by the Democrats.

Democrats argue that there was a mountain of evidence to justify spying on Page and that the surveillance court was informed that the dossier was a “political” memo, even if it didn’t specify that Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were behind it.

This story was updated at 1:44 p.m., Feb. 6.