Conn. lawmakers condemn memo release

February 2, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON — Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers condemned the release Friday of the controversial GOP memo detailing alleged political bias in the FBI wiretap application involving Carter Page, a Russia-connected former Trump campaign operative.

“This despicably wrong decision is a desperate attempt by President Trump and his Capitol Hill lackeys to smear the special counsel — and it will fail,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

He was referring to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading an investigation of Trump campaign connections with Russia — a probe that Trump has called a “hoax.”

“This document changes nothing,” Blumenthal said. “It regurgitates now well-worn and widely discredited Republican talking points.”

Blumenthal and other Connecticut Democrats have characterized the entire episode as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine public confidence in the Mueller investigation.

Mueller was appointed to continue the investigation into Trump campaign links to Russia after Trump last year fired FBI Director James Comey — an act that Mueller is said to be reviewing as evidence of possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

“The release of the Nunes memo dangerously politicizes the traditionally bipartisan House Intelligence Committee and seeks to discredit our vital national security institutions with a misinformation campaign,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, referring to the memo’s principal architect, House intelligence committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

“Trump and House Republicans have put our national security at risk and have attempted to distract the American people from the important work being done by special counsel Mueller on the 2016 election,” she said.

Disclosure of the four-page memo capped a vitriolic round of finger pointing on Capitol Hill, with Democrats including Rep. Jim Himes — an Intelligence Committee member — accusing Republicans of selective cherry-picking to construct a false narrative of FBI and Justice Department officials depending on a Democratic-financed dossier on Trump to justify electronic surveillance of Page.

“What you have here is second-rate political hit piece,” Himes said.

Trump on Friday rebuffed the FBI in approving release of the memo. The FBI had stated it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Republicans defended the memo as evidence of the FBI’s bias against Trump, demonstrated by bureau reliance on former British intelligence officer James Steele’s unverified dossier that was financed by the Democratic National Committee and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The memo states that the FBI’s application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court cited the Steele dossier and a Yahoo News story for which Steele was a source. The memo does not say whether the application also cited other sources of information to justify the surveillance of Page, who was a Trump campaign adviser on Russia from March to September 2016.

The report of Steele, a veteran intelligence operative inside Russia, paints a picture of the Kremlin conspiring to elect Trump president, with Trump caught in a compromising situation at a hotel in Moscow and possibly open to blackmail.

The GOP memo argues that, in seeking to convince the judge it had probable cause to eavesdrop on Page, “material and relevant information was omitted.”

Among those omissions, the memo said, were financing of Steele’s investigative effort by Democratic sources and Steele’s own professed distaste for Trump.

Himes pointed out that Fusion GPS, the Washington-based investigative group that commissioned the Steele dossier, was first hired to do Trump opposition research by a conservative Republican news outlet funded by New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer.

Also, Himes said, judges who examine warrant applications in counterintelligence cases look for a multitude of evidence to justify granting one. So it would be unlikely such a judge would do so based on the Steele dossier alone.

“Judges don’t rubber stamp these things,” he said. “The applications are extensive and detailed, and never rely on just one set of sources.”

And regardless of Steele’s political preferences, opposition research lives or dies by its accuracy, Himes said.

“Steele working for GOP or Democrats doesn’t mean his product (is) compromised,” he said. “Opposition research is either accurate or worthless, if it’s not factual.”

At the White House, Trump pointed an accusatory finger at FBI and Justice Department officials for their roles in approving the surveillance application and subsequent renewals.

“A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that,” Trump told reporters.

Asked if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Trump-appointed Justice Department No. 2 who appointed Mueller, should go, Trump responded: “You figure that one out.”

Nunes said the memo revealed “serious violations of the public trust.”

He added: “The American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.”

Sen. Chris Murphy said the release of the memo was a political ploy, aimed at insulating Trump against the Mueller investigation.

Nunes “is serving up garbage evidence to provide cover for the president to fire either (Mueller or Rosenstein) in order to scuttle the investigation before it reaches the truth,” Murphy said. “Americans deserve the full story, not a partisan witch hunt.”