Q&A: What the Battle of Memos on FBI Surveillance Showed - NBC New York
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Q&A: What the Battle of Memos on FBI Surveillance Showed

Why did Republicans write their memo? And why did the Democrats feel the need to respond?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Democrats Release Memo to Counter GOP's FBI Claims

    A redacted, declassified memo released by Democrats on the House intelligence committee Saturday aims to counter a narrative that Republicans on the committee have pushed for months — that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against President Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, abusing a secret surveillance process to spy on one of his operatives in its Russia investigation. Checkey Beckford reports.

    (Published Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018)

    In the battle of the classified memos in the House Intelligence Committee, both sides have now had their say on whether the FBI and Justice Department acted inappropriately as they began investigating President Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

    A Democratic memo that was declassified Saturday, with sections blacked out and after weeks of delays, aimed to defend the FBI and Justice Department's conduct. That was after a declassified Republican memo released Feb. 2 implied that the department had conspired against Trump in the investigation.

    Now that both are out, what have we learned? And why does it matter? Some questions and answers on the dueling memos:

    Q: Why did Republicans write their memo? And why did the Democrats feel the need to respond?
    A: Republicans say they are alerting the public to abuses they say they've uncovered at the Justice Department and FBI. The GOP memo describes the department's use of information compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor the communications of onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Steele's anti-Trump research was paid for by Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The warrant was first obtained in 2016 and then renewed three times by a secret court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

    Trump May Not Testify in Russia Probe: Sources

    [NATL] Trump May Not Testify in Russia Probe: Sources
    President Trump may not testify in the Russia investigation according to sources close to his attorneys. The New York Times reports President Trump's lawyers do not want him to sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, the House Committee has agreed to release the Democrats' counter-version of the GOP's FBI memo, but Trump has final say on whether this second memo goes public.
    (Published Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018)

    Democrats say the unprecedented four-page memo written by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee "cherry picked" information from the classified FISA warrant and other sources to make a political point. Led by California Rep. Adam Schiff, Democrats wrote a 10-page rebuttal memo to add detail and context to what the Republicans had written.

    Both classified memos had to be approved by President Donald Trump for release. Trump declassified the GOP memo with no redactions over the objections of the Justice Department, but initially blocked the Democrats' document and forced them to negotiate with Justice over what should be blacked out. The final Democratic memo has several redactions.

    Q: Did the Justice Department and FBI use political opposition research, at least in part, to obtain a surveillance warrant on a former Trump adviser?
    A: Yes. It's clear from both memos that Steele's material was used as part of the initial FISA application. The application itself remains classified, so the public can't assess on its own how much it was used. The Republican document says the compilation of memos drafted by Steele, now known as the Trump-Russia "dossier," made up an "essential part" of the surveillance application. The Democratic memo says the FBI "made only narrow use of Steele's sources" in the government's FISA application for Page.

    The Democratic memo says the Justice Department provided "additional information from multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele's reporting" in the dossier. Most of the details of the corroborated information are blacked out, but they appear to reference Page's meeting with Russian officials. The Democratic document also asserts that the FBI's concerns about Page long predate the dossier and that the government's application to monitor Page's communications details suspicious activities he undertook during the 2016 presidential campaign.

    Q: Did the Justice Department omit important information about the funding of Steele's research when it obtained the secret surveillance warrant on Page?
    A: According to the Democratic memo, the Justice Department disclosed Steele's political motivations, telling the secret court that Steele was hired to research Russian ties to a candidate and that he was likely hired by someone "looking for information that could be used to discredit" that candidate's campaign. The GOP memo focuses on the fact that the application does not specifically mention Clinton or the Democratic National Committee.

    Trump seized on that point in a tweet Saturday evening: "Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were - the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!"

    Trump Declassifies GOP Memo on Russia Probe

    [NAT] Trump Declassifies GOP Memo on Russia Probe

    The memo is a critique of the FBI's application for surveillance amidst the Russia Probe.

    (Published Friday, Feb. 2, 2018)

    In an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, Schiff said the Republicans' complaint about the missing identifiers is "ironic" given a separate investigation by Republicans on the panel into whether Obama administration officials inappropriately made requests to "unmask" identities of Trump campaign officials in intelligence reports.

    Q: Trump says the GOP memo "vindicates" him in the special counsel's Russia investigation. Was that the point of the memo?
    A: Republicans say it was not, pushing back after Trump tweeted that the GOP memo "totally vindicates 'Trump' in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on."

    Congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the GOP memo, have said it shouldn't be used to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia's election interference.

    So far, Mueller has charged nearly 20 people as part of his investigation. Three Trump associates have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

    Q: What's next for the House Intelligence Committee?
    A: Democrats say they hope the end of the protracted memo saga will mean more of a focus on the panel's own investigation into Russian interference. Schiff said in his interview with The AP that there are additional witnesses scheduled.

    "It's really been an effort to distract the public from the Russia investigation," Schiff said of the GOP memo.

    Democrat Congressman: Trump Was Sent 'Secretly Altered' Memo

    [NATL]Democrat Congressman: Trump Was Sent 'Secretly Altered' Memo

    The FBI and Democratic lawmakers are separately criticizing the decision to release a memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., focusing on FBI surveillance during the 2016 election season. The FBI said it was concerned about "omissions of fact" within the memo as House Republicans blocked a counter-memo written by their Democratic colleagues. 

    (Published Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018)

    It's unclear how closely the two sides will be able to work together. Members have described a total breakdown of the panel's traditional bipartisanship, and there are plans to build a wall to separate Republican and Democratic staff who have long sat side by side.

    One GOP member of the panel, Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, said it's likely Republicans and Democrats will issue separate reports on the Russia investigation, and partisans will only believe one report.

    "That level of trust is just gone," he said Feb. 8.