WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump traded insults with California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, on Monday as the panel appeared poised to vote to release another classified memo on FBI surveillance powers.
The latest memo was composed by Democrats and is intended to counter a formerly top secret GOP document, declassified by Trump last week, that questioned the FBI methods used to apply for a surveillance warrant on a onetime Trump campaign associate. If the panel votes to release the Democrats’ memo Monday evening, Trump would then have five days to decide whether to allow it.
Earlier Monday, Trump resorted to his occasional name-calling on Twitter, labeling Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.” He added that Schiff “must be stopped.”
Schiff quickly shot back: “Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or … really anything else.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah took a more measured approach, saying Trump would “consider” the Democratic memo’s release the same as the Republican document, “which is to allow for a legal review, national security review led by the White House counsel’s office.”
At least six Republicans have indicated that they intend to vote to release the Democratic memo, giving Democrats the votes they need to send it to Trump. Spokespeople for Republican Reps. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Peter King of New York, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and Mike Turner of Ohio said those lawmakers were certain or likely to vote for the memo’s release. Utah. Rep. Chris Stewart said last week that he would also vote for it.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he supports the release of the Democrats’ memo, if sensitive intelligence information is removed.
Key Democrats are seeking to put out the document. The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, urged Trump to back the public release and said refusing to do so would show the president’s intent to undermine the Russia investigation.
On Sunday, Democrats and Republicans said Trump was wrong to assert that the GOP-produced memo cleared him in the Russia investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia as well as whether there have been efforts to obstruct the investigation.
Trump tweeted over the weekend that the memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe” even as “the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on.” But that statement found no echo from four committee Republicans who appeared on the Sunday talk shows. Lawmakers also said the memo should not impede Mueller.
“I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that the special counsel shouldn’t complete his work. I support his work. I want him to finish it. I hope he finishes it as quickly as possible,” Rep. Stewart said.
Schiff has branded the GOP memo “a political hit job” and has questioned whether House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had coordinated with the White House in drafting the document seized on by the president to vent his grievances against the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies.
“The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding,” Schiff said. “I think it’s very possible his staff worked with the White House.”
Nunes was asked during a Jan. 29 committee meeting whether he had coordinated the memo with the White House. “As far as I know, no,” he responded, then refused to answer when asked whether his congressional staff members had communicated with the White House. He had previously apologized for sharing with the White House secret intelligence intercepts related to an investigation of Russian election interference before talking to committee members.
Trump also praised Nunes in a separate tweet Monday, calling him “a man of tremendous courage and grit, may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure!”
The memo released Friday alleges misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and his ties to Russia. Specifically, it takes aim at the FBI’s use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier containing allegations of ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.
The underlying materials that served as the basis for the warrant application were not made public in the GOP memo. Even as Democrats described it as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited the memo – released over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department – in their arguments that Mueller’s investigation is politically tainted.
The memo’s central allegation is that agents and prosecutors, in applying in October 2016 to monitor Page’s communications, failed to tell a judge that the opposition research that provided grounds for the FBI’s suspicion received funding from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Page had stopped advising the campaign sometime around the end of that summer.
Steele’s research, according to the memo, “formed an essential part” of the warrant application. But it’s unclear how much or what information Steele collected made it into the application, or how much has been corroborated.
Republicans say a judge should have known that “political actors” were involved in allegations that led the Justice Department to believe Page might be an agent of a foreign power – an accusation he has consistently denied.