In a controversial and unprecedented move, the House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a previously classified memo claiming that the Department of Justice (DOJ) abused critical surveillance authorities in order to damage President Trump’s campaign. 

Trump declassified the document Friday without redactions despite fierce public objections from the FBI, which warned this week that the memo contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” 

The four-page document, drafted by staff for Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), lays out a series of allegations that it says “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.” (Read the memo here.)

The memo paints a picture of a Justice Department fractured by bias against Trump while he was a candidate — a claim repeatedly made by House conservatives. It does not specify any particular criminal statutes that may have been violated. 

“The Committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes,” Nunes said in a statement. 

The memo accuses senior officials at the Department of Justice of inappropriately using a piece of opposition research into Trump during the presidential race to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

According to the document, information from the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought. 

Then-FBI Director James Comey sought and obtained a warrant to spy on Page in October 2016, the document states. That was after Page had left the Trump campaign, and roughly three months after the Russia investigation began.

The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — partially paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.  

The document also claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against then-candidate Trump, it did not convey this to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. According to the document, Steele told then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee said the document “mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information that few Members of Congress have seen” and “fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application and renewals.”  

They have drafted their own countermemo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority on the committee voted against making that document public earlier this week.

Still, the release from the Republicans does undercut one long-held assertion made by conservatives. Some GOP members have sought to raise doubts about the origins of the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign by suggesting that it was based entirely on the dossier.  

But according to the memo, the investigation was opened based on “information” on another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos. The warrant application for Page mentions the Papadopoulos information, according to the memo.  

The New York Times has previously reported that Papadopoulos bragged to an Australian diplomat that the Russians had damaging information on Clinton before the hack of the DNC emails became publicly known. The Australian government tipped off the FBI, according to the Times, kickstarting the probe.  

Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and is cooperating with the Russia investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. 

The memo from Republicans also does not address whether the information drawn from the Steele dossier was accurate. Surveillance experts have long claimed that the accuracy of the memo’s allegations will be virtually impossible to assess without seeing the warrant application for Page. 

The surveillance applications typically involve several layers of authentication of information. Justice Department lawyers often modify orders based on feedback from the court, and they must show probable cause that the target is acting as an agent of a foreign power.

The memo argues that that process failed in the Page application. It says the application “cited extensively” a 2016 Yahoo News article focused on a trip that Page made to Moscow that year, but “incorrectly assesses” that Steele was not the source of the story, according to the memo. 

But according to committee Democrats, the FBI “had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant.”

The memo that the Intelligence Committee Democrats are currently blocked from releasing lays out “what the FBI knew about Carter Page prior to making application to the court, including Carter Page’s previous interactions with Russian intelligence operatives,” they say. 

The Intelligence Committee has voted to release the Democratic memo to the full House — but not make it public. Committee Republicans have said the Democratic memo would need to be heavily redacted before being made public.

Friday’s dramatic release was set in motion earlier this week, when Intelligence Committee Republicans, led by Nunes, leveraged an obscure House rule never before used by the committee to override the classification of their document. They argued that its findings were serious enough to warrant public disclosure.

The underlying evidence behind the GOP memo remains classified. At least a dozen members of Congress have either viewed it or have access to it. Nunes has apparently not done so. 

It is based on a slate of materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

The Justice Department has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected. 

House conservatives have been touting the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign.

Trump, who approved the release of the memo on Friday, called its findings “a disgrace.”

“A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.

The release of the document comes as the Justice Department has come under increasingly withering criticism from both the president and Republicans in Congress — and as Mueller has appeared to inch closer to interviewing the president.

The bureau fought to stop the release of the memo, saying that it had “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the document.

“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” the FBI said in its statement. “We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”

Ahead of the document’s release, Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay its contents — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.

“First, there are legitimate questions about whether an American’s civil liberties were violated by the FISA process,” he told reporters after the meeting.

“This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller’s investigation and his investigation should be allowed to take its course,” he said.

Updated at 3:11 p.m.

Tags Devin Nunes Donald Trump Federal Bureau of Investigation Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act George Papadopoulos Hillary Clinton James Comey Paul Ryan Robert Mueller United States Department of Justice

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