WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, predicted Friday that the public will get to read his side’s rebuttal to a disputed Republican memo alleging dire surveillance abuses in the FBI’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. On a conference call with reporters, Schiff also disputed key points of the GOP document, which he described as an effort to protect President Trump.
The California lawmaker’s remarks came as he promised to make a fresh push to have Congress approve the release of the Democratic counterpoint to a memo crafted by Republican Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, also of California, and approved for publication by the White House.
“I think they’re going to be forced to release it,” Schiff said, referring to the Democratic response. By law, a majority of committee members would have to vote to make it public, after which the president would have five days to approve or block such a move.
“It will have to go to the White House. And the president, in theory, could veto its release, in which case the House would have to override that veto,” he said. “I think the president would be hard-pressed to try to suppress this memo, particularly since they claim they’re releasing the GOP memo in the interest of transparency.”
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has come out in favor of making public the Democratic document once it has undergone a review by the Justice Department and intelligence officials in order to scrub it of sensitive secrets.
“I would expect that our memo is likely to be redacted,” Schiff said. “We do want to make sure that we protect sources and methods.”
He was speaking after Trump approved the release of the four-page Nunes memo, which contends that the FBI relied on a Democratic-funded opposition research dossier on Trump as well as news reporting by Yahoo News Chief Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff in order to obtain a warrant to spy on one of the future president’s associates, Carter Page. The GOP document also charges that the FBI concealed the political motivation behind the dossier’s creation.
“I think it’s a disgrace. What’s going on in this country, I think it’s a disgrace,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday.
But the Nunes memo also confirms that the dossier, put together by former British spy Christopher Steele, was not what sparked the FBI’s overall investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible role. Instead, the probe began after the FBI became aware of contacts between a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser and Russia in 2016.
Democrats have said that their 10-page rebuttal will show that Nunes “cherry-picked” information and mischaracterized evidence. They have also charged that the memo is designed to undermine the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and potentially lay the groundwork for the president to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the former FBI director to the job.
Asked whether he has confidence in Rosenstein, Trump replied: “You figure that one out.”
Schiff told reporters, “This wasn’t about oversight, this is about telling a political story that’s helpful to the president. It’s about telling a political story that’s designed to injure the work of the special counsel and discredit it.” He urged Trump not to use the memo as a “pretext” for purging Rosenstein.
Schiff accused Republicans of misleadingly characterizing still-secret information in order to smear the Russia investigation. He pointed to a section of the memo that asserts that Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, pushed this week into early retirement after public denunciations by Trump, told the committee that the warrant application under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would not have occurred without the dossier.
“What he was describing is that the FISA application relies on all of the components within the application, each and every component,” Schiff said. “And only in that sense is it fair to say, ‘Well, if you take out any piece of it, then does that mean that the application would not be complete.’”
Schiff also said that the Nunes memo incorrectly suggested that the FISA application rested on the entire dossier. “It’s only very select parts of what Christopher Steele related to Carter Page,” some of it corroborated from other sources, that the court saw, he said.
“The investigation would have begun and continued even if Christopher Steele had never come along,” Schiff said.
The Democrat also denied the Nunes memo charge that officials withheld the fact that Steele assembled his dossier at the behest, ultimately, of the Clinton campaign.
“I can say that it’s not accurate to say that the FBI didn’t make the FISA court aware that there was a likely political motivation behind those who were funding Christopher Steele’s work,” Schiff said. “It’s misleading to suggest that the court had no idea there was a political motivation involved in his work.”
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