Congress releases redacted, declassified Democratic memo

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, speaks to the Council of Foreign Relations about Russia's election interference, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON -- The 10-page Democratic memo intended to counter the GOP memo related to surveillance of a former Trump campaign official has been released, with some redactions. The release comes after President Trump had decided earlier not to declassify the 10-page memo, claiming there were concerns over sources and methods the memo could reveal. Mr. Trump already declassified the GOP memo for release three weeks ago.

The Democratic memo is intended to serve as a sort of counter to the GOP memo, which describes how the Justice Department and FBI acquired and executed surveillance warrants for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, in part by allegedly using the dossier of unverified information about Mr. Trump's interactions with Russians. The Democratic memo argues the FBI and DOJ were entirely justified, and relied on much more information than just the dossier crafted by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

"FBI and DOJ officials did not 'abuse' the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, nor subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign," the Democratic memo argues. "In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government. DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA's probable cause requirement..."

READ: The Democratic FISA memo

Here are highlights from the memo:

  • The Democratic memo claims the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele was not the impetus for the Russia investigation, and was far from the only source of information used in the process of obtaining warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page: "In subsequent FISA renewals, DOJ provided additional information obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele's reporting," the Democratic memo says, with those apparent sources redacted.

  • On the fourth page of the memo, it says Page was told of the existence of information about Hillary Clinton by Igor Devykin in July 2016. That is roughly the time the information started leaking out to the public.

The Democratic memo is intended to serve as a sort of counter to the GOP memo, which describes how the Justice Department and FBI acquired and executed surveillance warrants for former Page, in part by allegedly using the dossier of unverified information about Mr. Trump's interactions with Russians. Democrats feared the GOP would use the GOP memo to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and any ties to the Trump campaign.

Both Republicans and Democrats seemed to think the Democratic memo bolsters their own previously held positions.

In a statement, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said his memo shows Republicans "deliberately omitted" information in their memo. Schiff had been pushing for the release of the Democratic memo for weeks.

"The FBI supplied information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Russia might be colluding with Trump campaign associates," Schiff said. "DOJ provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia's election interference including evidence that Russia courted another Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, and that Russian agents previewed their dissemination of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Russian assistance would, as we would learn in the Papadopoulos plea, take the form of the anonymous disclosure of thousands of Hillary Clinton and DNC emails. The FBI had ample reason to believe that Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power based on his history, including the fact that he had previously been a target of Russian recruitment, his travel to Russia, and other information. The renewals of the FISA were also appropriate and based on new information obtained by law enforcement. The FBI did disclose that those who employed Christopher Steele were likely motivated to discredit Trump's presidential campaign. The Bureau used proper masking procedures so as not to reveal the identities of U.S. persons not subject to the FISA, but made clear that the likely purpose was opposition research. Contrary to the Majority's assertions, the FBI and DOJ did not use a Yahoo News article to corroborate Steele; it was referenced alongside another article and a letter Page wrote to then FBI Director James Comey to inform the court of Page's public denials."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., seemed to think the Democratic memo proved his initial points.

"The American people now clearly understand that the FBI used political dirt paid for by the Democratic Party to spy on an American citizen from the Republican Party," Nunes said in a statement. "Furthermore, the FISA court was misled about Mr. Page's past interactions with the FBI in which he helped build a case against Russian operatives in America who were brought to justice. It defies belief that the Department of Justice and FBI failed to provide information to a secret court that they had provided to an open federal court regarding their past interactions with Mr. Page. "

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released this statement upon the release of the Democratic memo, calling it "politically driven."

"While the Democrats' memorandum attempts to undercut the president politically, the president supported its release in the interest of transparency," Sanders said. "Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority's memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign. As the majority's memorandum stated, the FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier that was a basis for the Department of Justice's FISA application. In addition, the Minority's memo fails to even address the fact that the Deputy FBI Director told the Committee that had it not been for the dossier, no surveillance order would have been sought. As the President has long stated, neither he nor his campaign ever colluded with a foreign power during the 2016 election, and nothing in today's memo counters that fact."

Five days after the committee first voted to release the Democrats' memo earlier this month, White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter that, though the president was "inclined to declassify" the memo, the White House could not authorize its release because it contained "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages."

In a subsequent tweet, Mr. Trump wrote that the Democrats submitted "a very political and long response memo which they knew, because of sources and methods (and more), would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency. Told them to re-do and send back in proper form!"

Only a week before that, and over intense objections from the FBI, the president approved the release of the four-page memo drafted principally by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. In advance of that memo's release, FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a rare public statement expressing "grave concerns about material omissions of fact" that impacted the Republican memo's accuracy. It was released without redaction and within five days after the committee used an arcane House rule to make the document public.

The release of the Democrats' 10-page memo, which is based on the same underlying, highly-classified intelligence as the Republicans' memo, would appear to conclude a month-long period of bitter infighting among the committee's members, whose responsibilities of overseeing the country's 17 intelligence agencies and charge of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election were largely put on hold while the memo fights played out on Capitol Hill.

Even before the public release of the Republicans' memo, Democrats decried it as misleading and irresponsible and accused Republicans of selectively using information in an effort to discredit the Justice Department and FBI and to undermine the work of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Among the central claims in Republicans' memo was that an unverified dossier authored by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele made up an essential part of the FBI's request for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It also contended that officials failed to disclose to the court that Steele's work was itself compromised by bias and that it was financed by the Democratic National Committee and a law firm employed by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

In a statement at the time, Schiff called that a "serious" mischaracterization.

"The majority suggests that the FBI failed to alert the court as to Steele's potential political motivations or the political motivations of those who hired him," Schiff said, "but this is not accurate."

Republicans said their memo called into question the "legitimacy and legality" of the DOJ and FBI's interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and claimed that bias among leadership at those institutions facilitated efforts to undermine the Trump campaign and presidency.

In a tweet following the Republican memo's release, Mr. Trump claimed that the memo "totally" vindicated him in Mueller's probe.

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