Congress releases Democrats’ memo defending FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide


The House Intelligence Committee released on Saturday a redacted memo authored by Democrats and intended to rebut GOP allegations that federal law enforcement agencies had political motivations for wiretapping one of President Donald Trump’s former campaign aides.

In their retort, Democrats charge that the GOP unfairly maligned the FBI and the Justice Department for citing in their surveillance application information from the author of a controversial dossier alleging that Trump had ties to Russian officials, research that was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“Our extensive review … failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat.

Republican leaders have argued that the former campaign aide, Carter Page, was unfairly targeted, saying the surveillance court that approved the warrant was never told that information from the dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele, was financed by the Democrats.

According to the Democrats’ memo, Page had been of interest to the FBI for years. It asserts that the bureau had interviewed him multiple times about his contacts with Russian intelligence, including in March 2016 – the same month he was named a Trump campaign adviser, and months before Steele was hired to conduct research on Trump and before he made contact with the FBI.

The court was told that Steele had been approached by a “U.S. person” who had been hired “to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia,” according to a portion of the surveillance applications contained in the Democrats’ memo. Candidate #1 is a reference to Trump.

“The FBI speculates that the U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate #1’s campaign,” the application says.

The memo’s content is the product of negotiations among the committee’s Democratic members, as well as with the FBI and the Justice Department.

According to Schiff, Democrats submitted their proposed redactions more than a week ago. At first, they were told the memo would be released Friday, then on Monday, he said. They learned of its release Saturday only shortly before the Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., announced that the document had been put online for public perusal, Schiff said.

“I think the White House tried to bury it as long as they could,” he told The Washington Post in an interview. The Republicans’ decision to release the memo without warning, on a Saturday, is “not what you do when you think you’re vindicated,” he added. “It’s what you do when you think the facts don’t reflect well on you.”

Schiff said he hopes its release means the Intelligence Committee can refocus attention on “the core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.” But there seems little chance this disclosure will quell the bitter political feuding that has consumed the panel.

In his comments at CPAC, Nunes stressed that the panel had seen “no evidence of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia – a conclusion Schiff disputes. He suggested, too, that surveillance rules need to be changed.

The Democrats are “advocating that it’s okay for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against another political campaign,” Nunes said.

Republicans have floated a legislative change that would bar material paid for by a political entity from being presented as evidence to secure a surveillance warrant. Democrats oppose the effort.

The Washington Post’s David Weigel and John Wagner contributed to this report.

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