GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan

Republicans are targeting former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn Comey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Trump punts on Stone pardon decision after sentencing MORE and former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanEx-CIA chief calls Trump intel shakeup a 'virtual decapitation' of the intelligence community DOJ attorney looking into whether CIA withheld info during start of Russia probe: NYT Federal prosecutor looking into Brennan's role in Russian interference findings: report MORE as they seek to bring more attention to what they say was an unfair investigation of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll 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) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Sanders says he was briefed on Russian effort to help campaign MORE has tapped John DurhamJohn DurhamTrump tweets test Attorney General Barr The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms A tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice 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 WarnerTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight MORE (D-Va.) said at the time.

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

Former Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely 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 HannityO'Reilly weighs in on Warren-Bloomberg exchange on nondisclosure agreements The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine Carville fires back at Sanders for 'hack' slam: 'At least I'm not a communist' 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 RatcliffeTrump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury Sunday shows preview: 2020 candidates look to South Carolina Trump says he is considering four candidates for intelligence chief 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.