A Democratic-funded opposition research dossier was only a “narrow” part of the FBI’s justification for obtaining a warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign official, congressional Democrats said in their long-awaited memo, finally released Saturday, detailing the process that led to the snooping.
The new memo says the FBI had opened a counterinvestigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia even before it obtained the so-called Steele dossier, a salacious and largely unverified document produced by a former British spy with funding from the Democratic National Committee.
The memo says ex-Trump aide Carter Page was targeted for recruitment by a Russian operative at a date that’s redacted from the document, and efforts to recruit Mr. Page continued.
The contacts were so striking that the FBI interviewed Mr. Page in March 2016, at about the time he was taking a role in the Trump campaign — though surveillance on him didn’t begin until months later, after he’d left the campaign.
But many of the key details justifying the surveillance are redacted from the memo, so the extent of the evidence beyond the Steele dossier is not clear.
President Trump said Saturday night that he isn’t impressed with the Democrats’ memo.
“The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
House intelligence committee ranking member Adam Schiff, California Democrat, who wrote the Democrats’ memo, said surveillance of Mr. Page produced “valuable intelligence” — though the evidence for that, too, is redacted.
Perhaps most important to the ongoing dispute over Mr. Steele, the memo says that the Justice Department not only didn’t conceal his background and potential bias, but laid it all out for the judges on the secret court who approved the warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The memo quotes from the application: “The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person [who funded the dossier] was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit [Mr. Trump]’s campaign.”
Mr. Schiff said the memo should “put to rest” the issues Republicans raised over the way the Obama administration obtained, and the Trump Justice Department continued, surveillance on Mr. Page.
“Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” Mr. Schiff said.
The White House had rejected an original version of the Schiff memo, saying it revealed too much classified information that could give away key intelligence sources and methods. On Saturday, the White House approved the redacted version that was then quickly released.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders still called the new memo “politically driven.”
“The FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier that was a basis for the Department of Justice’s FISA application. In addition, the Minority’s memo fails to even address the fact that the Deputy FBI Director told the Committee that had it not been for the dossier, no surveillance order would have been sought,” Ms. Sanders said.
That last point was a reference to testimony the former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, who according to Republicans told the intelligence committee last year that the dossier was critical to their case. Democrats have said that is a mischaracterization.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly and forcefully denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the intelligence committee and author of the GOP memo released last month, told activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the Democratic memo was “clear evidence that Democrats are not only trying to cover this up but they are also colluding with parts of the government to help cover this up.”
He also said the Schiff memo didn’t undercut any of the original GOP memo.
“What you will basically read in the Democratic memo — they are advocating that it is OK for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against the other campaign, and I don’t care who you are, a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, in the United States of America that is unacceptable,” Mr. Nunes said.
Mr. Nunes was at CPAC to accept an award for his role in heading the intelligence committee.
Partisan battle over the dueling memos was especially intense and reaction from Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill came swiftly late Saturday, echoing Mr. Schiff’s contention that Mr. Nunes effort was crafted to undermine the credibility of the DOJ, the FBI and especially special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian election meddling.
“Americans deserve an accurate picture of the actions taken by the FBI, which were fully appropriate and entirely lawful,” the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, said in a statement, “This memo makes clear that there is no reasonable basis to suggest otherwise, except to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation. Now that the Nunes memo has been thoroughly debunked, the White House and its allies in Congress must put a stop to the dangerous partisan sideshows that jeopardize classified sources and methods and focus on Russia’s unprecedented interference in our election, which is a real and ongoing threat to our national security. “
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added, “it is imperative that Republicans in Congress end their political charades.”
• Dan Boylan and Dave Boyer contributed to this report.