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'Serious violation of public trust': Controversial memo alleges FBI abuse of power against Trump

The four-page memo reveals alleged abuse at the FBI and Justice Department.

Updated 10.08pm

THE US CONGRESS released a Republican memo today alleging abuse of power in investigations of Donald Trump’s election campaign, after the president accused his own Justice Department and FBI of bias against him.

In authorizing the explosive move, Trump set up an extraordinary confrontation with America’s top law enforcement authorities.

Ignoring the advice of the FBI itself, which warned that the four-page document painted an inaccurate picture, the president gave his green light to declassify the memo drafted by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, former Trump transition team official Devin Nunes.

“What’s happening in our country is a disgrace,” Trump said, announcing that he had declassified the memo.

“A lot of people should be ashamed,” added Trump, who earlier today accused the leaders of the Justice Department and FBI of politicising their investigation in favor of the Democrats.

So I sent it over to Congress. They will do what they’re going to do. Whatever they do is fine. It was declassified, and let’s see what happens.

The move set up an extraordinary confrontation with the country’s top law enforcement authorities, and triggered speculation that FBI Director Christopher Wray would step down just six months into the job.

Trump’s critics allege the memo is designed to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s ties with Russia, which US intelligence agencies unanimously agree tried to tilt the election in his favor.

part of fbi memo

Based on classified materials, the four-page document claims that the FBI used an unsubstantiated, Democratic-funded research report to obtain a warrant in 2016 to surveil Trump advisor Carter Page, who had extensive Russian contacts.

The FBI had warned that the memo, crafted by Nunes as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy”.

But Trump lashed out hard at the leaders of the FBI and Justice Department as he prepared to declassify the document.

“The top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicised the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans,” he tweeted.

The president called the alleged bias “something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!”

White House counsel Don McGahn wrote in a letter attached to the memo that Trump had authorised its declassification “in light of the significant public interest in the memorandum”.

“The committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes,” Nunes said in a statement.

Key findings

Based on classified materials, the four-page memo claims that the FBI and DOJ in 2016 used an unsubstantiated, Democratic-funded research report to obtain a FISA national security warrant to surveil Trump advisor Carter Page, who had extensive Russian contacts.

Several former and current top FBI and DOJ officials, it said, signed off on the FISA application and three renewals, in what the memo’s authors says amounted to accepting an unacceptably weak basis for a warrant.

The findings of the report “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions” with the court that issued the warrant, said the memo, produced by the Republican leadership of the House Intelligence Committee.

They “represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses,” it said.

Memo’s release

The document, which has circulated among many members of Congress, was based on the highly classified, much larger record of the application to obtain a so-called FISA national security warrant in 2016 to surveil Page.

Democrats have sought approval for the release of their own counter-memo that argues Nunes simplified and “cherry-picks” facts to distort what happened.

Directly in the firing line were Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, all chosen last year for their jobs by Trump.

Sessions has stayed out of the fray, but Rosenstein, who directly oversees Mueller’s Russia investigation, and Wray have battled Nunes and the White House over the memo since the beginning of the year.

Democrats allege that the ultimate target is Rosenstein, the sole person able to fire Mueller.

Rosenstein and Wray this week lobbied Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, and Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, against the release.

On Tuesday the FBI issued an extraordinary public warning that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

On Thursday, however, Ryan backed Nunes, characterising the release as an act of transparency and a defense of American civil liberties.

“This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice,” Ryan said.

Republican senators uneasy over fight

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and the author of the still-secret counter-memo, rejected Ryan’s explanation, citing the president’s own Friday tweet.

Speaking to CBS Friday morning, Schiff said the president’s tweet made plain that the memo’s release was “designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI — to undermine the investigation; to give the president additional fodder to attack the investigation.”

“It’s a tremendous disservice to the American people, who are going to be misled by this — by the selective use of classified information.”

Not all Republicans were on board, however. Four senior Republican senators, including John Thune, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, expressed their unease about Nunes’ use of intelligence in a political battle.

“The president’s apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining US intelligence-gathering efforts, politicising Congress’ oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government,” Flake said in a joint statement with Democratic Senator Chris Coons.

© AFP 2018

Read: Trump set to okay release of explosive memo alleging abuse of power in the FBI

Read: FBI has ‘grave concerns’ over Trump plan to release controversial memo

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