Lawmakers dispute ‘vindication’ for Trump in Intel memo
Democrats on Sunday argued that the release of a controversial memo accusing the Justice Department of surveillance abuses does not vindicate President Trump in the Russia investigation — and Republicans are also avoiding declarations of Trump’s exoneration.
Trump made the claim that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the Russia investigation in a Saturday tweet following the memo’s release the day before.
But Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC on Sunday that he doesn’t believe the memo vindicates Trump. Several other Republicans argued that the memo was not about the ongoing investigation.
The memo, released on Friday upon Trump’s authorization, roiled Washington, D.C., as Democrats labeled the Republican-led push to publish the document an effort to undermine law enforcement agencies as well as the special counsel probing Russia’s election meddling and any potential ties between Trump campaign members and Moscow.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Sunday dismissed Trump’s assertion that the memo vindicates him.
“No, of course it does not,” Durbin told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“And the fact that the Republicans in the House refused to allow a minority report, the Democratic response to their memo, is an indication that this — they’re just bound and determined to continue to find ways to absolve this president from any responsibility,” he continued.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence panel, in both a Saturday op-ed and a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week” said the memo does not provide Trump with any vindication.
“The memo’s release provided none of the vindication the president sought or would claim, but it was hugely consequential nonetheless, in how it undermined the system of checks and balances designed to insulate the FBI from White House meddling established in the wake of Watergate,” Schiff wrote for Esquire.
Republicans on Sunday emphasized that the memo provided evidence of the Justice Department’s abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to gain a warrant — rather than proof of the president’s innocence from allegations of collusion.
“I think this is a separate issue,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” when asked if he agreed with the president’s view of the memo.
“In my opinion, what we’re dealing with is a situation within our FISA court and how we process within our government agencies,” he said. “And I don’t think it really has anything to do with that.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who is also a member of the Intelligence Committee, argued that the memo had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.
“I actually don’t think it has any impact on the Russia probe,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Sunday seized on Republicans’ refusal to agree that the memo exonerated Trump, blasting out clips of interviews with GOP members of Congress in an email that argued “even Republicans agree that the Nunes memo does nothing to discredit the Russia investigation.”
For example, Hurd instead highlighted his worry about FISA abuse.
“I’m not shocked that elected officials are using hyperbole and … exaggerations,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “But this is about, for me, what kind of information should be used in a Title III court in order to spy on American citizens. Our civil liberties are important.”
The concern refers to the surveillance warrants obtained on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The memo states that information from a politically-funded dossier assembled by a former British spy “was an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.”
Gowdy, in defending the Russia investigation, argued Sunday that while he doesn’t think the warrant would have been acquired without the dossier — something Democrats also contest — the Russia probe would still exist without it.
That dossier includes unverified claims about Trump and was partially funded by the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Republicans have argued that the funding makes the material politically biased and that the origins of the dossier were not disclosed on the FISA application or its renewals.
“There was a barrage of evidence that they presented to the court including a disclosure that the Steele dossier had a political motivation,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), another member of the House Intelligence Committee, during his own Sunday interview disputed the notion that the FISA application relied on the dossier.
“Just because it was opposition research doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. In fact, we wouldn’t pay a penny for opposition research if it is biased,” Himes told CNN. “I think when the facts are out here, this will turn out to be a very, very small and insignificant thing.”
Democrats are now pushing to release their own memo, which aims to counter the Nunes document. The House Intelligence Committee is expected to vote Monday on whether to release that document. If the panel votes to make it public, it will likely undergo vetting and Trump will have to sign off on its release.