U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Bloomberg)

Trump Says FBI, Justice Politicized Probes Ahead of Memo Release

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump on Friday accused top leaders at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department of politicizing investigations ahead of the release of a Republican memo that argues the agencies abused surveillance powers in probing Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential race.

“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Trump tweeted. “Rank & File are great people!”

Trump’s accusation came after he decided to allow publication of the classified House Intelligence Committee memo, which Republicans claim describes FBI anti-Trump bias, White House officials said. He planned to send it back to Congress for release to the public by Friday, officials said.

While one of those officials said early Thursday that the president had agreed to some redactions requested by the FBI in the four-page document, another official said later that redactions were unlikely. The White House has reviewed the memo to make sure it doesn’t reveal too much classified information, that official said.

The move will likely ratchet up the partisan warfare over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Democrats have condemned the document as a misleading and inaccurate attempt to undermine Mueller’s investigation at the cost of damaging the nation’s intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. FBI Director Christopher Wray urged Trump not to release the memo, according to a person familiar with that matter. The FBI on Thursday issued a statement saying the document contains “material omissions of fact.”

Former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing by Trump last year spurred appointment of a special counsel, issued a scathing statement on Twitter that appeared to criticize plans to release the memo.

“All should appreciate the FBI speaking up,” Comey said in the tweet. “But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.”

James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, reacted to Trump’s tweet Friday morning, telling CNN the move is a “pretty blatant political act” and he hopes that “the FBI particularly takes the opportunity to rebut the memo and include those omissions of fact to the extent that they can.”

Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Coons in a joint statement urged Trump to reconsider, saying his “apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts, politicizing Congress’ oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government.”

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have howled in protest at the Republican-controlled panel’s decision to put off a possible release of a Democratic memo rebutting the claims in the GOP document.

‘President’s Hide’

“What we don’t do is cherry-pick classified information and publish it to protect the president’s hide,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said Thursday at an event at the University of Pennsylvania, predicting Trump would use the memo as a pretext to dismiss Mueller and his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said that “as of now” the House will be responsible for releasing the memo because it’s a legislative document. He didn’t offer any timing for the release.

“We’re committed to a process,” Shah said. Trump “is going to take input from legal and national security voices.”

The document was compiled by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s staff based in part on classified information provided to his panel by the bureau. The Intelligence Committee voted along party lines on Monday to release the memo.

Democrats have excoriated Republicans over their handling of the memo. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday asking for Nunes, a California Republican, to be removed as the committee’s chairman. Democrats also have criticized Nunes for refusing to respond to questions on whether the panel’s Republican staff collaborated with the White House in preparing the memo.

Schiff demanded a new vote on releasing the memo to the public, citing changes that had been made to the document since the panel voted Monday to release it.

Schiff called the changes “material and substantive” and demanded that the memo be withdrawn so the panel could hold a new vote on whether to release it. A spokesman for Nunes said Schiff was complaining about minor revisions -- including grammatical fixes -- and edits requested by the FBI and Democrats.

‘Let All of It Out’

Schiff’s demand, backed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, represents the latest skirmish in the battle over the memo, which is based on classified documents that only a handful of members of Congress have been allowed to read.

Schumer said in a statement Wednesday night that Nunes has "been willing to carry the White House’s water, attack our law enforcement and intelligence officials, and now to mislead his House colleagues.” Nunes has called into question the origins of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign was involved.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters at a GOP retreat in West Virginia that the Intelligence panel’s actions were a matter of congressional oversight of the executive branch to determine whether a warrant that the FBI acted properly when it obtained a warrant from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

"This does not implicate the Mueller investigation," Ryan said. He said his understanding was that Nunes revised the memo before the committee voted to release it.

"I say, let all of it out, so long as we’re not revealing sources and methods," Ryan said. "The more transparency the better."

Handful Read It

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hasn’t seen the memo and that Ryan is handling the situation correctly.

John Brennan, a former CIA director under President Barack Obama, criticized Nunes and House Republicans for “reckless partisan behavior” on Thursday, and said an absence of leadership from the White House was contributing to the crisis.

Outside the Intelligence panel, only a handful of committee chairmen or senior Democrats have access to the underlying intelligence documents, which are highly classified. House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte and the panel’s top Democrat, Jerrold Nadler of New York have seen them, according to Nadler. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, also said he has reviewed the source material.

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