GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan

Republicans are targeting former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBiden sister has book deal, set to publish in April Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom MORE and former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanUFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation The world's most passionate UFO skeptic versus the government MORE as they seek to bring more attention to what they say was an unfair investigation of President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE launched in the Obama administration.

The effort to spotlight the intelligence officials comes as Democratic calls to impeach President Trump rise in the wake of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s first public remarks about his investigation.

The White House says the real controversy is the investigation of Trump that preceded Mueller's probe, an argument Democrats contend is just a conspiracy theory peddled in order to distract from his presidential woes.

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Trump and GOP lawmakers are seeking to pin blame on Comey and Brennan over the use of the so-called “Steele” dossier in the surveillance warrant application that ultimately allowed the FBI to wiretap a member of the Trump campaign in 2016.

The dossier, a shadowy document that makes a series of salacious allegations about Trump, has long been a flashpoint for Republicans.

Some Republicans allege that FBI investigators relied too heavily on it to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Some of the allegations in the dossier have been verified, while others were proven false or remain unsubstantiated.

Right-leaning news outlets claim that Brennan and Comey have offered conflicting messages as to who supported including details from the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele’s research in the FISA warrant application.

Trump on Thursday highlighted a Fox News segment on the matter, tweeting: “‘Comey and Brennan are turning on each other.’  @kilmeade

Fox News, citing anonymous sources and non-public emails, reported in May that a Comey email claimed Brennan wanted to include the dossier in the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) analysis. The story was amped up by right-wing news sites as a feud between the two intelligence officials.

Democrats have claimed this is a standard page out of the GOP-playbook for such closed-off inquiries -- leak allegations anonymously about classified or non-public documents or communications, and then push those talking points on television. 

Officials have maintained that the dossier was not included in the analysis, which was released in 2017. The FBI, not the CIA, deals with counterintelligence investigations and thus the applications for FISA warrants.

Brennan has said that the FBI had a responsibility to see if they could verify some of the claims in the document.

“It did not play any role whatsoever in the Intelligence Community Assessment that was done that was presented to then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump,” Brennan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last year. “I do think it was up to the FBI to see if they could verify any of it.”

Comey — who oversaw the launch of the counterintelligence probe — has publicly stated that he felt the need to brief Trump, then-president-elect, on the dossier. Comey brought up the document during a one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower with the soon-to-be president in January 2017, after Brennan and other top intelligence officials briefed him on the ICA.

There is little evidence to suggest Comey and Brennan, both Trump critics, are at odds over the dossier. 

Republicans who claim Comey and top brass at the FBI were biased against Trump have long called for a second special counsel to be tapped to investigate whether the FBI conducted proper surveillance.

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump: Washington/Lincoln ticket would have had hard time beating me before pandemic Trump says Barr 'never' told him he thought he'd lose election Speeches aren't enough: Biden must ditch bipartisanship, endorse ending filibuster MORE has tapped John DurhamJohn DurhamGarland stresses independence in first speech at DOJ Senate votes to confirm Garland as attorney general Special counsel investigating Russia probe to retire as US attorney MORE, a respected U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to review the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference.

The president has worked to clear any hurdles for Barr’s inquiry, ordering intelligence agencies in May to cooperate and giving the attorney general complete power to declassify information related to the investigation.

That fueled further criticism from Democrats, who blasted the president’s declassification order as a further sign Trump will pursue a political agenda at the expense of his own intelligence community.

“Selectively declassifying sources and methods in order to serve a political agenda will make it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs protecting this country from those who wish to do us harm,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks Senators introduce bipartisan bill to secure critical groups against hackers MORE (D-Va.) said at the time.

Stories about Comey and Brennan have repeatedly surfaced on Fox News.

Former Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), a former chairman Oversight and Government Reform turned Fox News contributor, advised GOP members that letters between Comey and Brennan are the key to unlocking who made the dossier decision.

“Whoever is investigating this, tell them to look for emails between Brennan and Comey in December of 2016,” Gowdy said in an interview with Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityBiden walks fine line with Fox News GOP Rep. Cawthorn says he wants to 'prosecute' Fauci Biden pokes at Fox hosts: They've had 'altar call' on vaccines MORE in mid-May.

Republican lawmakers took Gowdy’s cue.

“Comey and Brennan have made a lot of statements, some under oath, about the origins of the Trump Russia investigation, the timing and role of the Steele dossier and reasons for surveillance of Trump campaign officials. As I’ve been saying for awhile now, some of that is inconsistent with the contents of classified documents and the sworn testimony of other witnesses,” Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeUFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told The Hill.

“And more recently, some of what Brennan and Comey have been saying is now inconsistent with one another. As Attorney General Barr said this morning, it just doesn’t jive. Someone isn’t telling the truth,” he continued.