The memo was written by aides to Republican Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, a staunch defender of Donald Trump and a member of his transition team.
The committee is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, but its inquiry has devolved into a partisan fight about the FBI and justice department, and how they have investigated the meddling. The investigation is now led by a special counsel, Robert Mueller.
On Friday, Nunes published the memo minutes after Donald Trump declassified it.
The four-page memo revolves around a wiretap on Carter Page, who was briefly an adviser to the Trump campaign and a figure on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013. The documents alleges that the FBI omitted key information when it applied to a court for the wiretap in question.
According to its authors, the memo’s findings “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain [Department of Justice] and FBI interactions” with the court that approves surveillance requests. It also claims they “represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses”.
The memo criticizes investigators who applied for the wiretap, saying they used material provided by a former British agent, Christopher Steele, without sufficiently disclosing their source to the judge. Steele was employed by a freelance research firm, which in turn had been hired by Democrats during the general election campaigns.
The memo criticizes these omissions and says Steele himself was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president”. The memo also claims the FBI “terminated” Steele as a source because he spoke with the press.
The memo imputes “a clear bias against Trump” to an FBI agent and an FBI attorney, on the basis that they shared texts critical of the businessman. (The agent was removed from the investigation last December and the attorney has left the bureau.)
The memo itself notes that the investigation began before the wiretap application on Page. It alludes without detail to how another Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, made suspicious remarks to an Australian official, who tipped off American counterparts.
The memo acknowledges that Papadopoulos, not Page, “triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016”. It adds that there is “no evidence of any co-operation or conspiracy between Page”.
The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is also cast in a negative light for approving continued surveillance of Page. Rosenstein is the justice department official with authority to fire Mueller should he find evidence of misconduct. Rosenstein has said he has seen no evidence.
The FBI argued against the memo’s release, saying: “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
The memo has raised concerns that the president is looking for a pretext to undermine or discredit the special counsel investigation, which now encompasses potential obstruction of justice by the White House. The president, said to dislike Rosenstein, could fire and replace him with someone who could close or cripple the inquiry. Asked in the Oval Office on Friday if he still had confidence in Rosenstein, Trump said: “You figure that one out.”
This article was written by Alan Yuhas, for theguardian.com on Sunday 4th February 2018 09.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010