The release of House Republicans’ memo alleging FBI abuses of its surveillance authority has intensified an extraordinary feud between President Donald Trump and parts of his own government.
Trump — who campaigned on a theme of “law and order” — and members of his Republican Party, in power in Washington, are using the memo to sow distrust in America’s chief law enforcement agency and its investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump on Saturday falsely claimed that the memo “totally vindicates” him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia.
“This is an American disgrace!” he tweeted.
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, the California Republican whose committee drafted the memo, promised Friday on Fox News that more memos critical of US government agencies are coming.
“We are in the middle of what I call ‘phase two’ of our investigation, which involves other departments,” Nunes said. “Specifically the State Department and some of the involvement they had in this.”
Other leading figures, including Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, are issuing dire warnings of the potential damage that undermining US institutions could cause.
“Our nation’s elected officials, including the President, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows,” McCain said in a statement. “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a retiring South Carolina Republican member of the intelligence panel, tweeted that he remains “100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not – in any way – discredit his investigation.”
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, mocked the memo’s contents, tweeting: “That’s it?”
“Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what?” he wrote. “DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”
The three-and-a-half page memo faults the FBI for relying on a dossier on Trump and Russia — the production of which was funded indirectly by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee — to obtain and renew a surveillance warrant to monitor former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
The memo argues that the application for that surveillance warrant was overly reliant on the dossier. But it undermines its own argument in its final paragraph: The memo notes that the application also included information regarding Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, suggesting there was intelligence beyond the dossier in the Page application.
Democrats and the FBI have called the memo inaccurate and incomplete.
After the memo’s release, FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed employees in an internal video. He said he knows it’s a tough and unsettling time — and the last few days have made it worse — but that “actions speak louder than words,” sources who have viewed the video said.
“Current public sentiment may see us in an unfavorable light,” Wray said. “But the work you do is important and I believe in our mission and support what we do everyday.”
Beyond the memo’s contents, the bigger question is political: Will Trump take any direct action to attempt to end the Russia investigation as a result of the memo?
On Twitter — where the notion of a “deep state” beyond Trump’s control is popular among Trump’s supporters — the President’s allies had promised shocking revelations that the FBI abused its powers, using the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, in the lead-up to its release.
Trump on Friday wouldn’t say whether he plans to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the top Justice Department official overseeing the Russia investigation, or if he retained confidence in Rosenstein.
“You figure that one out,” he told reporters.
Democrats fear Trump will use the memo as a pretext to fire Rosenstein over his approval of an extended surveillance warrant for Page. Rosenstein oversees the Russia investigation.
“The President hasn’t needed much by way of justification to go after people and I hope he won’t use this as a mode of pretext, but you never know with Donald Trump,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday — before Trump’s comments — said Rosenstein represents “the kind of quality and leadership that we want in the department.”
And a White House spokesman said Friday night that Rosenstein’s job is safe.
“I’m saying it on behalf of the White House, and that’s that no changes are going to be made at the Department of Justice,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Friday night on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”