US Democrats release counter-memo over Russia probe

Prints of a memo released by the Democratic minority on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee  - REUTERS
Prints of a memo released by the Democratic minority on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee - REUTERS

Democratic lawmakers released a partially-redacted rebuttal on Saturday of a controversial Republican memo alleging bias and abuse of power in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

The Democrats' document - which President Donald Trump dubbed a "political and legal BUST" - is the latest salvo in a partisan fight over the Russia investigation, which was launched in 2016 and has come under repeated fire from Mr Trump and other Republicans.

The Republican memo, which was released earlier this month over the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice's objections, said that unsubstantiated Democrat-funded research was used to obtain a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.

"FBI and DOJ officials did not 'abuse' the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign," the Democrats' text said, referring to the process under which secret surveillance warrants are obtained.

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"In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.

"DOJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page," and "the warrant request was based on compelling evidence and probable cause," said the document.

The White House initially blocked the release of the Democratic memo, citing its inclusion of sensitive information, and Trump took aim at the now-redacted text.

"This whole Witch Hunt is an illegal disgrace...and Obama did nothing about Russia!" he later added.

Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and the architect of the Republican text, also criticised the Democratic rebuttal.

"What you're not gonna see is anything that actually rejects what was in our memo," which aimed to show "that FISA abuse had occurred," Nunes said at an annual Republican conference.

Democrats "are advocating that it's OK for the FBI and DOJ to use political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against the other campaign," he said, referring to information compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

The Democratic document said the Russia meddling investigation was "based on troubling law enforcement and intelligence information unrelated to the 'dossier,'" and that Page had officially left the Trump campaign before the application to surveil him was filed.

But information from Steele was used in the surveillance warrant application, according to the memo, which said that "multiple independent sources" - which were redacted from the document - confirmed his reporting, and contradicted testimony by Page.

Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, criticised the White House for delaying the release of the memo.

The document "should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC," Schiff said in a statement, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which hears applications for FISA warrants.

"It is time for our committee to return to the core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, the role US persons played in that interference and what we need to do to protect the country going forward."

America's leading intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russian President Vladimir Putin had directed a broad intelligence effort to influence the 2016 presidential election to undermine the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton and boost Trump's chances, but the president has repeatedly denied colluding with Moscow.