U.S. President Donald Trump is at odds with both the FBI and the Justice Department over whether to release a classified memo alleging that top law enforcement officials were biased against the president.
The “Nunes memo,” named for the Republican congressman who drafted it in recent weeks, allegedly includes details about Justice Department efforts ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election to seek authority from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor a Trump campaign adviser’s possible contacts with Russian operatives.
Democrats and other critics of the memo say it selectively uses classified intelligence to allege the Russia investigation is affected by political bias. Democrats have prepared their own memo, countering the Republican claims, but that memo is not expected to be released until later, if at all.
Trump has said he favors releasing the document, with the White House saying Thursday he has read and reviewed it. It could be released at any time.
The top two Democrats in Congress, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, denounced the memo Thursday and criticized Republican leaders for allegedly putting partisanship ahead of the rule of law. The Democrats called for the removal of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes over his role in creating the memo.
The partisan dispute drew in the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday. The bureau issued a highly unusual public statement, saying it had “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the memo.
One former FBI official still in touch with colleagues at the bureau, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, said the reputation of the FBI is at stake in the dispute over release of the memo.
“When you have politicians attack these institutions for their own political gains, that weakens the credibility of those institutions to the general public,” the ex-official said. “Everyday citizens are going to say, ‘Well, maybe the FBI is slanted. Maybe the CIA is slanted. Maybe our government cannot be trusted the way it should be.'”
Former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko, who now serves as president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said, “The notion of a congressional committee investigating the investigators in real time is, to me, very problematic. That’s not to say the FBI gets a free pass, which they shouldn’t. But here, there’s a very independent [inspector general to investigate wrong-doing] and I’d be concerned about how Congress is impacting his work, too.”
Nunes called the FBI’s objections to release of the memo “spurious.”
“The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses,” Nunes said in a statement. “Regardless, it’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign. Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
The memo concerns an application by U.S. law enforcement authorities to the surveillance court to monitor contacts Trump campaign adviser Carter Page may have had with Russian operatives leading up to the election. Some Republicans say the surveillance request may have been mishandled and suggest the episode could undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election and whether Trump obstructed justice to try to impede the probe.
The memo has become a flashpoint in politically divided Washington, with some Republicans increasingly voicing complaints about Mueller’s months-long investigation and claiming that some Justice Department officials have worked to undermine Trump’s presidency.
Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia. Last week, he said there also was “no obstruction” of the Russia investigation.
National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this article.
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