Trump escalates fight over Russia probe, approves release of secret memo

A copy of the formerly top secret classified memo written by House Intelligence Committee Republican staff and declassified for release by U.S. President Donald Trump is seen shortly after it was released by the committee in Washington, February 2, 2018 A copy of the formerly top secret classified memo written by House Intelligence Committee Republican staff and declassified for release by U.S. President Donald Trump is seen shortly after it was released by the committee in Washington, February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday approved the release of a classified Republican memo that alleges bias against him at the FBI and Justice Department, in an extraordinary showdown with law enforcement agencies over the probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Ignoring the urgings of the FBI earlier this week, Trump declassified the four-page memo and sent it to Congress, where Republicans on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee immediately released it to the public.

The Republican president told reporters that the contents of the document tell a disgraceful story of bias against him and that “a lot of people should be ashamed.”

The document has become a flashpoint in a battle between Republicans and Democrats over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election. Mueller is also believed to be investigating any attempts to impede his probe.

Trump has repeatedly complained about Mueller’s investigation, which has cast a shadow over his first year in office, calling it a witch hunt and denying any collusion or obstruction of justice. Moscow has denied any election meddling.

The memo, criticized by the FBI as incomplete and slammed by Democrats as an attempt to undermine Mueller’s probe, purports to show that the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was driven by political bias.

The document, commissioned by the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, Devin Nunes, uses the case of investigations into a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, saying the FBI used a biased source to justify surveillance on him.

It alleges that a dossier of Trump-Russia contacts compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and funded in part by U.S. Democrats, formed an “essential part” of requests for electronic surveillance on Page that began in October, 2016.

It says the initial application and subsequent renewal applications did not mention the link between Steele and the Democrats. It also portrays Steele as biased, saying he “was passionate about him (Trump) not being president.”

Democrats said the memo cherry picks information.

“The selective release and politicization of classified information sets a terrible precedent and will do long-term damage to the Intelligence Community and our law enforcement agencies,” Democrats on the House intelligence panel said in a statement on Friday.

The Democrats said they hoped to release their own memo responding to the allegations on Feb. 5.

The entire file that the Justice Department used to apply to a special court for permission to eavesdrop on Page remains highly classified, making it hard to evaluate the memo’s contents.

FBI ANGER OVER MEMO

Two days ago, in a rare public rebuke of the president and Republicans in Congress who were pushing to release the memo, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact” in the document and it should not be made public.

On Friday, FBI agents defended their work and said they “have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract” from their mission.

“The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency,”

FBI Agents Association President Thomas O’Connor said in a statement after the memo’s release.

Earlier on Friday, Trump accused top U.S. law enforcement officers – some of whom he appointed himself – of politicizing investigations.

“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The president praised “rank and file” FBI employees.

His latest salvo was sure to worsen the president’s frayed relations with agencies that are supposed to be politically independent.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Democratic President Barack Obama, said Trump’s attack on the FBI and Justice Department was the “pot calling the kettle black.”

Seeking to defuse the conflict over the memo, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan backed the release of a Democratic counterpoint document. His office said he backed making the Democrats’ rebuttal public if it does not reveal intelligence gathering sources or methods.

Democrats say their counter-memo restores context and information left out of the Republican version. Republicans have resisted releasing that document,

The former head of Trump’s presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, and the Trump administration’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have been charged in the Russia probe, along with others.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and David Alexander; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

You can click here for the entire memo that has just been released.    Intelligence committee memo 

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