With President Trump’s blessing, House Republicans released a declassified bombshell memo Friday revealing that the FBI relied on a partisan and unverified anti-Trump dossier to justify spying on a Trump campaign aide during the presidential race in 2016.
The four-page document describes partisan conflicts of interest among high-ranking FBI officials, who obtained surveillance warrants from a secret federal court based on campaign dirt from a British spy who was “desperate” to prevent Mr. Trump from winning the presidency.
One of those FBI officials, then-deputy director Andrew McCabe, told the House Intelligence Committee last December that a warrant for surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page would not have been sought without the information from the spy, Christopher Steele. Mr. McCabe retired earlier than expected on Monday, one day after FBI Director Christopher Wray saw the memo.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican who compiled the memo and pushed for its release, said 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.”
The memo’s release touched off intense partisan feuding in Washington, with Mr. Trump and his allies saying it proves political bias among top Justice and FBI officials, while Democrats accused the administration and the GOP of destabilizing the FBI and trying to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Mr. Trump called the revelations “a disgrace.”
Mr. Steele said he obtained information about Mr. Trump from unidentified officials at the Kremlin in Moscow. His dossier was eventually given to Fusion/GPS, a liberal research firm funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
But when FBI officials repeatedly applied for surveillance warrants, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court that approved those warrants wasn’t given complete information about the partisan origins of the dossier, the memo stated.
“The dossier compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application,” the memo states. “Steele was a longtime FBI source who was paid over $160,000 by the DNC and Clinton campaign, via the law firm Perkins Coie and research firm Fusion GPS, to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.”
The memo says that neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals at 90-day intervals, disclosed or referenced “the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior and FBI officials.”
Among the top officials signing the applications for warrants were then-FBI Director James B. Comey, who signed three and was fired by Mr. Trump last year, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. McCabe, former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente.
The document also details a partisan conflict of then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, who was in contact with Mr. Steele while Mr. Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion/GPS “to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump” for Mrs. Clinton.
“Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research, paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS,” the memo stated. “The Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the [court].”
In September 2016, Mr. Steele admitted to Mr. Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump, saying he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo said.
not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications,” the document stated.
Mr. Ohr was demoted at Justice late last year.
The document indicates that the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump campaign officials had improper contacts with Russia was triggered by information obtained about George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser who is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Allies of Mr. Trump have asserted that the Russia probe began with the Steele dossier. But the memo stated that FBI agent Pete Strzok, who has since been kicked off the special counsel’s investigation in a texting scandal, opened the investigation in July 2016 based on “information” about Mr. Papadapoulos, rather than the dossier.
The release of the document caused a furor in Washington, with Mr. Trump and his conservative allies saying it bolsters his longtime claims that the intelligence community has been working to undermine him.
Mr. Trump on Friday called the abuses detailed in the memo “terrible.”
“I think it’s a disgrace, what’s happening in our country,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.”
Asked if he has confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Trump said, “You figure that one out.”
Democrats responded furiously, saying the memo is selectively edited and that Mr. Nunes and his GOP colleagues were using it to try to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
“President Trump’s decision to allow the release of Chairman Nunes‘ Republican talking points is part of a coordinated propaganda effort to discredit, disable and defeat the Russia investigation,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. “House Republicans are now accomplices to a shocking campaign to obstruct the work of the Special Counsel, to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the Justice Department and the FBI, and to bury the fact that a foreign adversary interfered with our last election.”
Added Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee: “The release of this memo by House Intelligence Committee Republicans and the White House, over the objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice, is reckless and demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth.”
Mr. Warner and Mr. Nadler were part of a group of 10 Democrats who wrote a letter telling Mr. Trump the new memo should not be the basis for any more firings of Justice Department figures.
“We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation. Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ Leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre,” the Democrats said.
Mr. Nunes said U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies “exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another.”
“It is my hope that the committee’s actions will shine a light on this alarming series of events so we can make reforms that allow the American people to have full faith and confidence in their governing institutions,” he said.
Federal law requires that surveillance of an American citizen must be renewed by the court every 90 days, and each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause.
The Carter Page FISA application cited “extensively” a Sept. 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Mr. Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow.
“This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News,” the memo said. “The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News. Steele has admitted in British court filings that he met with Yahoo News and several other outlet in September 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS.”
Mr. Page said in a statement Friday, “The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America’s democracy.”
“Now that a few of the misdeeds against the Trump movement have been partially revealed, I look forward to updating my pending legal action in opposition to DOJ this weekend in preparation for Monday’s next small step on the long, pot-holed road toward helping to restore law and order in our great country,” Mr. Page said.
The memo said the initial FISA application noted that Mr. Steele “was working for a named US. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a US. law firm (Perkins Coie) representing the DNC (even though it was known by DOI at the time that political actors were involved with the Steele dossier).”
“The application does not mention Steele was ultimately working on behalf of and paid by the DNC and Clinton campaign, or that the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information,” it stated. “While the FISA application relied on Steele‘s
past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters, it ignored or concealed his anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations.”
It says Perkins Coie was aware of Steele’s initial media contacts because the firm hosted at least one meeting in Washington D.C. in 2016 with Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS where the matter was discussed.
Friday’s release of the memo came after an extraordinary week of public wrangling between the White House and the FBI and DOJ and culminated in what analysts saw as a historic victory for Congress’ ability to oversee Americas powerful national security bureaucracy.
It began Monday night when Republican members of the House Intelligence committee tapped a never-before-used Congressional rule to de-classify the memo. They also simultaneously blocked the release of a rebuttal memo written by Democrats.
That triggered senior officials at the FBI and Justice Department, including the president’s hand-picked FBI director, Mr. Wray, to take the unusual step of publicly lobbying the White House and Congress against its release, citing “grave concerns” over the document’s accuracy.
Mr. Trump and his advisers reviewed the document this week, and the president approved of the memo’s release. White House counsel Don McGahn told the House Intelligence Committee that the declassification of the information was “appropriate” and had “significant public interest.”
“To be clear, the memorandum reflects the judgments of its congressional authors,” Mr. McGahn said.
The decision to declassify the document enraged Capitol Hill Democrats so much, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the party’s top two officials, called for Mr. Nunes to be ousted from the chairmanship.
“As Speaker, put an end to this charade and hold Chairman Nunes and all Congressional Republicans accountable to the oath they have taken to support and defend the Constitution, and protect the American people,” Mrs. Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
But Mr. Ryan, who as speaker of the House appoints the intelligence chairman, pushed back hard, arguing that Mr. Nunes was leading an important investigation into potential civil liberties abuses.
“If American civil liberties were abused, then that needs to come to light so that that doesn’t happen again. What this is not is an indictment on our institutions of our justice system,” Mr. Ryan said on Thursday.
On Friday, just before noon EST, the memo saw the light of day.
• Sally Persons contributed to this story.
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