Man arrested in wave of package bombs in Washington, D.C

Thanh Cong Phan, 43, is shown in this undated booking photo provided March 28, 2018. Yolo Country Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Washington state man has been arrested in connection with a series of package bombs sent to U.S. military installations and a CIA mail office in the Washington, D.C., area earlier this week, the FBI said on Tuesday.

The suspect, Thanh Cong Phan, 43, was arrested on Monday at his home in Everett, Washington, by federal agents and sheriff’s deputies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

A U.S. security official said Phan had a history of writing incoherent letters to government officials and was believed to have mental problems. The official declined to be named during an ongoing investigation.

Court documents made public on Tuesday afternoon showed that Phan had been charged in U.S. District Court in Seattle with one count of shipping explosive materials.

Suspicious packages were received on Monday at mail processing sites at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, which is a Navy-Air Force facility in the District of Columbia; and Fort Lesley J. McNair in the U.S. capital, the agency said.

The packages also turned up at mail facilities at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, and the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. None of them detonated.

“It is possible that further packages were mailed to additional mail processing facilities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area,” the FBI said. The packages were being analyzed at the FBI laboratory at Quantico, Virginia.

Ashwin Cattamanchi, a federal public defender representing Phan, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Officials at Fort McNair evacuated a building after one of the packages was delivered, a spokesman said. An Army bomb squad confirmed that the package tested positive for explosive residue and determined a fuse was attached, he said.

Earlier in March in a separate incident at a U.S. military base, a man died after driving a minivan through the gate of Travis Air Force Base in California and igniting propane tanks and gasoline cans.

Several package bombs left on doorsteps and some sent from a Federal Express office detonated in Austin, Texas, leaving two people dead and others injured. The suspected bomber blew himself up as police closed in on him.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Ian Simpson and Dan Whitcomb; editing by Scott Malone, Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

Fewer Russian spies in U.S. but getting harder to track

FILE PHOTO: A sign at the gated entrance of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

By Warren Strobel and John Walcott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. decision to expel 60 alleged spies is unlikely to cripple Russian spying in the United States because others have wormed and hacked their way into American companies, schools, and even the government, current and former U.S. officials said.

Moscow’s spy services still use the cover of embassies and consulates, as Washington does. But they also recruit Russian emigres, establish front companies, dispatch short-term travelers to the United States, recruit Americans, and penetrate computer networks, the officials said.

“Russia used to have one way of doing things. Now, Putin is – let a thousand flowers bloom,” a former senior U.S. official said in a recent interview, describing Moscow’s move to a more multifaceted approach under President Vladimir Putin, a former Soviet spy himself.

The FBI follows the movements and monitors the communications of suspected foreign spies, but the increased Russian presence and the advent of commercially available encrypted communications are an added challenge to the FBI’s counter-espionage force, said the officials, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic.

As one U.S. official put it when asked if Russian spying is a harder target: “It’s more complex now. The complexity comes in the techniques that can be used.”

While the CIA tracks foreign spies overseas and the National Security Agency monitors international communications, the FBI is responsible for spy-catching inside the United States.

The White House on Monday said it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, 12 of them at the U.N. mission, and close the Russian consulate in Seattle as part of a multi-nation response to the Kremlin’s alleged nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.

Briefing reporters, a senior U.S. official said there were “well over” 100 Russian spies posing as diplomats in the United States before the expulsion order.

A veteran U.S. official charged with keeping tabs on Russian espionage said the administration downplayed the number of suspected Russian spies working under diplomatic cover to avoid giving the Russians a clearer picture of how many people are under surveillance.

The actual number varies over time, but “it averages more like 150 or so,” the official said.

“We’ve got a very, very, very good counter-intelligence apparatus,” said Robert Litt, a former general counsel for the U.S. Director of National Intelligence. “There are a lot of people in the FBI whose job it is to track these people – and they’re very good at it.”

TAKES TEN TO TANGO

Still, it can take 10 or more U.S. trained FBI and local law enforcement officers to keep tabs on one trained spy for a 24-hour period – covering back entrances to buildings and multiple elevators, and being alert for changes in clothes, cars and even hairpieces, the same official said.

One Russian tactic is sending a large number of people, including just one or two intelligence officers, streaming out of a diplomatic mission at once, making it harder for the FBI to decide whom to follow, said a former U.S. intelligence officer, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Microsoft Corp. was one target of the Russian espionage operation in Seattle, U.S. officials familiar with the expulsions said. One goal was identifying targets for recruitment in the company’s coding operations because the company’s products are used in so many applications, they said.

Microsoft declined comment.

In 2010, Alexey Karetnikov, a 23-year-old Russian spy who had worked at testing computer code in Microsoft’s Richmond, Wash., headquarters, was deported by an immigration judge.

Several of the officials traced the Kremlin’s more aggressive spying approach to Putin’s 2012 return to the presidency, and Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine.

“We observed a commensurate uptick in Russian intelligence and espionage activity in the U.S. and across Europe, although few analysts connected the dots,” said Heather Conley, a former State Department official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

Michael Rochford, a former FBI chief for espionage, said the mass expulsion of suspected spies posing as diplomats will affect Russia’s security services and dent morale at their Moscow headquarters.

After past expulsions, he said, Russian spies have handed their operations over to officers who remain behind, or to “illegals” – long-term agents with no demonstrable connections to the Russian government.

The risk, he said, is that when Moscow replaces the expelled personnel, it will not be clear who the new spies are.

“Sometimes it’s better to know who they are and follow them,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish)

Judge denies motion to drop case against widow of Orlando gunman

FILE PHOTO: Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, U.S. on June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – A judge on Monday denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against the widow of the gunman in the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, saying that the gunman’s father’s work an FBI informant was not relevant to the case.

Over the weekend, prosecutors disclosed that Omar Mateen’s father, Seddique, had worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before his son carried out the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016.

In opening their case, lawyers for Mateen’s widow, Noor Salman, argued that the judge should dismiss the charges against her or declare a mistrial because prosecutors had failed to reveal the FBI’s relationship to Mateen’s father and other evidence related to him beforehand.

Salman, 31, is accused of helping her husband carry out surveillance of possible attack sites and doing nothing to stop him. Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent who claimed allegiance to a member of the Islamic State militant group, was killed by police after more than three hours in the Pulse nightclub.

An FBI agent on Monday testified that years before Mateen carried out the attack, the agency considered using him as an informant, like his father.

Those discussions took place while the FBI was investigating comments made by the younger Mateen about overseas links to militants, Special Agent Juvenal Martin said in federal court in Orlando. That investigation closed without charges, he said.

Martin did not say why the FBI decided against enlisting Omar Mateen as an informant.

Salman’s attorneys say that the disclosure by prosecutors that Seddique Mateen had been an informant from January 2005 to June 2016 violated a Supreme Court ruling barring prosecutors from withholding evidence.

After resting their case, prosecutors said agents probing the nightclub rampage found receipts of money transfers made from the United States to Turkey and Afghanistan made by the elder Mateen. An active investigation was under way, they said.

If the defense had known about the transfers, it would have investigated whether Seddique Mateen was involved in the attack or had prior knowledge of it, Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Salman, said in the motion to dismiss.

But U.S. District Judge Paul Byron said, “It is not clear whether the purpose of the transfers was illegal.”

He said the omission of any evidence related to Seddique Mateen had no bearing on the culpability of Salman.

Salman faces possible life in prison if convicted on charges of aiding her husband in the attack and obstructing an investigation.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Additional reporting and writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)

U.S. spending bill tackles border, election security: source

FILE PHOTO: U.S. border patrol officers are pictured near a prototype for U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, behind the current border fence in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal government spending deal being worked out in the U.S. Congress includes additional funding to boost border security, protect the upcoming elections in November and rebuild aging infrastructure, a source familiar with the negotiations said on Wednesday.

While the source said a final overall spending agreement had not been reached, other Republican and Democratic congressional aides have told Reuters that leaders plan to unveil their agreement on the $1.3 trillion spending bill later on Wednesday.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress have until Friday night to reach a deal before a lapse would force federal agencies to suspend operations. The current plan would provide for government funding through Sept. 30, after a series of short-term funding measures implemented since last fall.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate said on Tuesday they were close to a deal and hoped to complete legislation by Friday as they worked to overcome divisions over several thorny issues such as President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

So far, the package provides $1.6 billion for some fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico and other technological border security efforts, the source said.

Trump had sought $25 billion for a full wall, but negotiations fell through to provide more money in exchange for protections for “Dreamers,” young adults who were brought illegally into the United States as children.

The spending plan also provides $307 million more than the Trump administration’s request for the FBI to counter Russian cyber attacks, and $380 million for U.S. states to improve their technology before November’s congressional election, according to the source.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election campaign, and intelligence chiefs said last month that Russia will seek to interfere in the midterm elections this year by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports. Russia has denied any interference.

The planned spending measure allocates $10 billion for spending on infrastructure such as highways, airports and railroads. It also includes money for the so-called Gateway rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, the source said.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill if the Gateway project is included. While its funds remain, they are directed through the U.S. Department of Transportation, rather than provided directly, Politico reported.

Additionally, lawmakers’ added $2.8 billion to address opioid addiction, the source said.

One potential stumbling block includes gun-related provisions prompted by a mass shooting at a Florida high school on Feb. 14 that killed 17 students and faculty members. On Tuesday, as another shooting swept over a high school in Maryland, House Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers were still discussing a proposal to improve federal background checks for gun purchases.

Another issue tying up negotiations was tax treatment for grain co-ops versus corporate producers, according to Politico.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)

Fifth package bomb strikes Texas, at FedEx facility near San Antonio

Schertz Police block off Doerr Lane near the scene of a blast at a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flore

By Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth

AUSTIN/SCHERTZ, Texas (Reuters) – A package bomb blew up at a FedEx Corp distribution center near San Antonio on Tuesday, officials said, and the FBI was investigating whether it was linked to a series of four homemade bombs that hit the Texas capital of Austin this month.

Officials did not say if the latest incident was the work of what Austin police believe could be a serial bomber responsible for the four earlier devices that killed two people and injured four others.

The blast at the FedEx facility in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio, was the fifth in the state in the last 18 days. If it is linked to the others, it would be the first outside the Austin area and the first that involves a commercial parcel service.

“We are investigating it as being possibly related to our open investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “We can’t know for sure until we have an opportunity to look at the evidence itself.”

The package, filled with nails and metal shrapnel, exploded shortly after midnight local time at the facility, about 65 miles south of Austin, the San Antonio Fire Department said on Twitter.

The company described it as a FedEx Ground sorting facility. About 75 people were working at the facility at the time, fire officials said.

The individual or people behind the bombings are likely to be highly skilled and methodical, said Fred Burton, chief security officer for Stratfor, a private intelligence and security consulting firm based in Austin.

“This is a race against time to find him before he bombs again,” Burton said.

More than 500 federal agents were involved in the investigation.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Tuesday sought to reassure citizens. “While the concern is real and the anxiety is real … it can’t immobilize us. It has to make us more determined. It has to make us more vigilant,” he told a local television station.

The White House is monitoring the situation, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Tuesday.

Further stoking fears, Austin police investigated a possible hazardous materials incident at a FedEx facility in Austin on Tuesday morning. There was no indication it was related to the bombings.

The first three devices were parcel bombs dropped off in front of homes on in three eastern Austin neighborhoods. The fourth went off on Sunday night on the west side of the city and was described by police as a more sophisticated device detonated through a trip wire mechanism.

The four devices were similar in construction, suggesting they were the work of the same bomb maker, officials said.

The first two bombs killed Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old black man on March 2 and Draylen Mason, a 17-year-old African-American teenager on March 12. The third, also on March 12, severely injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman. Police said they are investigating whether the bombings were hate crimes.

Sunday’s trip wire bomb, which injured two white men, went off shortly after police made a rare public call to the suspect to explain his motives.

Austin, with a population of nearly 1 million people, is home to the University of Texas and a plethora of technology companies and has been one of the fastest growing major U.S. cities.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Jeffrey Benkoe)

FBI admits mishandling tip about accused Florida gunman

Mourners leave the funeral for Alyssa Aldaheff, 14, one of the victims of the school shooting, in North Fort Lauderdale, Florida, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday said it mishandled a January tip that the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people in Florida had guns and the potential to carry out a school shooting.

A person close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz called an FBI tip line on Jan. 5 to report concerns about him, the FBI said in a statement.

(For a graphic on Florida school shooting click http://tmsnrt.rs/2nX8ECo)

“The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” it said.

The tip appeared unrelated to a previously reported YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI has acknowledged getting that tip as well but failing to connect it to Cruz, who is accused of carrying out the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday with an AR-15-style assault rifle.

“Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,” the FBI said in its statement. “The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami field office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken. We have determined that these protocols were not followed.”

The second-deadliest shooting at a public school in U.S. history also raised concerns about potential failures in school security and stirred the ongoing U.S. debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“We are still investigating the facts,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the statement. “We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.”

Leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump have linked mental illness to Wednesday’s violence, suggesting that it was the public’s responsibility to warn officials of such dangers.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” Trump said in a Thursday tweet. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Cruz, who had been expelled from the school where he allegedly staged his attack for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, made a brief court appearance on Thursday and was ordered held without bond.

“He’s a broken human being,” his lawyer, public defender Melissa McNeill, told reporters. “He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful.”

Wednesday’s shooting ranks as the greatest loss of life from school gun violence since the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first-graders and six adult educators dead.

News of the FBI’s mishandling of the last month’s tip about Cruz came as families of the 17 victims began to bury their dead. The first two funerals were for Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, a high school athlete and Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior who had been headed to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

Brian Gately, a friend of the Alhadeff family, said he attended Alyssa’s funeral and that the synagogue was so packed he had to stand in the rear.

“There was just really a lot of sadness in there,” Gately, a 51-year-old financial adviser who lives in Parkland said. The burial became more emotional, he added, saying, “People were yelling, ‘No, no.’ Kids were yelling, ‘No, no.'”

Trump tweeted on Friday morning that he would leave for Florida later in the day to meet people whose “lives had been totally shattered” by the shooting.

 

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

Grief and anger as Florida prepares to bury victims of school massacre

A handwritten note to a lost friend is surrounded by candles and flowers at a candlelight vigil the day after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – As families prepared on Friday to bury victims of another U.S. mass shooting, grief mixed with anger amid signs of possible lapses in school security and indications that law enforcement may have missed clues about the suspected gunman’s plans.

One distraught mother who said she had just spent two hours making funeral preparations for her 14-year-old child expressed disbelief that a gunman could just stroll into school and open fire, and she appealed to President Donald Trump to take action.

Bob Ossler, chaplain with the Cape Coral volunteer fire department, places seventeen crosses for the victims of yesterday's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on a fence a short distance from the school in Parkland, Florida, February 15, 2018.

Bob Ossler, chaplain with the Cape Coral volunteer fire department, places seventeen crosses for the victims of yesterday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on a fence a short distance from the school in Parkland, Florida, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Nikolas Cruz, 19, identified as a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who had been expelled for disciplinary problems, walked into the school on Wednesday and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing 17 students and facility members and injuring 15 others, police said.

The shooting has raised questions among anguished parents about the adequacy of school security measures and renewed a national debate on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about the epidemic of gun violence in American schools.

“How do we allow a gunman to come into our children’s school? How did they get through security? What security is there?” Lori Alhadeff shouted into the camera in an emotionally raw appearance on CNN.

“The gunman, the crazy person, just walks right into the school, knocks down the window to my child’s door and starts shooting, shooting her …,” cried Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was among the dead.

Cruz, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, made a brief initial court appearance on Thursday, in which he was ordered held without bond.

“He’s a broken human being,” his lawyer, public defender Melissa McNeill, told reporters. “He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful.”

Daniel Journey (C), an 18-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, attends a community prayer vigil for victims of yesterday's shooting at his school, at Parkridge Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, February 15, 2018. Journey said he lost two friends he had known and grown up with since they were seven years old in the shooting. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Daniel Journey (C), an 18-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, attends a community prayer vigil for victims of yesterday’s shooting at his school, at Parkridge Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, February 15, 2018. Journey said he lost two friends he had known and grown up with since they were seven years old in the shooting. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

“PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL SHOOTER”

Cruz may have foreshadowed the attack in a comment on YouTube, investigated by the FBI. The Federal Bureau of Investigation disclosed it received a tip in September about the message that read: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” by a user named Nikolas Cruz.

However, FBI agents had no information pointing to the “time, location or true identity” of the person behind the message, Robert Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville office, told reporters.

YouTube ultimately removed the material in question, and the FBI’s inquiry was dropped until the name Nikolas Cruz surfaced again in connection with Wednesday’s massacre.

Authorities say Cruz, identified as a former student at Stoneman Douglas High who had been expelled for disciplinary problems, walked into the school shortly before dismissal time, pulled a fire alarm and opened fire as students and teachers streamed out of classrooms into the halls.

The sheriff said Cruz arrived at the school by way of the Uber ride-sharing service and left the scene on foot, mixing in “with a group that were running away, fearing for their lives.”

He walked into a Walmart, bought a beverage at a Subway outlet inside the store, then visited a McDonald’s before he was spotted and detained by a police officer in the adjacent town of Coconut Creek, Israel said.

Former classmates have described Cruz as a social outcast with a reputation as a trouble-maker, as well as someone who was “crazy about guns.” The sheriff has said some of the online and social media activity Cruz engaged in was “very, very disturbing.”

Wednesday’s shooting ranks as the greatest loss of life from school gun violence after the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first-graders and six adult educators dead.

People attend a candlelight vigil for victims of the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

People attend a candlelight vigil for victims of the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

“It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference,” Trump said at the White House in a speech that emphasized school safety and mental health while avoiding any mention of gun policy. “We must actually make that difference.”

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives criticized the Republican leadership on Wednesday for refusing to take up legislation on tightening background checks for prospective gun buyers.

Some gun control proponents and legal experts said Wednesday’s shooting might have been averted if Florida were among the handful of U.S. states with laws allowing police and family members to obtain restraining orders barring people suspected of being a threat from possessing guns.

Cruz had recently moved in with another family after his mother’s November death, said Jim Lewis, a lawyer representing the family, bringing his AR-15 along with other belongings.

The family believed Cruz was depressed, but attributed that to his mother’s death, not mental illness, Lewis said.

For graphic on Florida school shooting, click: http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/FLORIDA-SHOOTING/010060XH1SW/shooting.jpg

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)

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

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 

Disregarding FBI, White House to release Republican memo: official

The main headquarters of the FBI, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, is seen in Washington on March 4, 2012.

By Steve Holland and Warren Strobel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A secret Republican memo alleging FBI bias against President Donald Trump likely will be released on Thursday, a Trump administration official said, a move that would put the White House in direct confrontation with the top U.S. law enforcement agency.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a rare rebuke on Wednesday to the president and his fellow Republicans in Congress who are pushing to release the four-page document crafted by Republican members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

“The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the FBI said in a statement. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Justice Department officials have also said releasing the memo could jeopardize classified information.

The administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Wednesday night, did not elaborate on the expected release.

The fight over the memo reflects a wider battle over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to help him win the 2016 presidential election. Russia and Trump have both denied the allegations. Mueller’s investigation and the FBI probe that preceded it have hung over Trump’s year-old presidency.

Democrats say the four-page memo is misleading, based on a selective use of highly classified data and intended to discredit Mueller’s investigation.

Representative Devin Nunes, the intelligence committee’s Republican chairman who commissioned the document, dismissed the objections to its release as “spurious.”

In a bid to block its release, Representative Adam Schiff, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat, said late on Wednesday he had discovered that Nunes had sent the White House a version of the memo that was “materially altered” and not what the committee voted to release on Monday. It was not clear if the panel’s Republicans would hold a new vote on the altered document.

The memo accuses the FBI and Justice Department of misleading a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge in March as they sought to extend an eavesdropping warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, four sources familiar with it have said.

They said memo contends that the FBI and Justice Department failed to tell the judge that some of the information used to justify the warrant included portions of a dossier of Trump-Russia contacts that was opposition research paid for by Democrats.

However, the sources said the memo does not mention that the request to extend surveillance on Page, which began before Trump took office, also relied on other highly classified information and that U.S. agencies had confirmed excerpts from the dossier included in the request.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda to attempt to tilt the race in favor of Trump. The president has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and “hoax.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham)

Controversial Republican memo to be released quickly: White House official

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House plans to release a classified House Intelligence Committee memo that Republicans say shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department, U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said on Wednesday.

“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said in an interview on Fox News Radio, adding he had seen the four-page document and that White House lawyers were reviewing it.

Kelly’s comments follow Trump’s response to a Republican lawmaker after his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that suggested there was a “100 percent chance” the memo would be made public.

Justice Department officials have warned that releasing the memo would be reckless. On Monday, department officials advised Kelly against releasing the memo on the grounds it could jeopardize classified information, the Washington Post reported.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told the White House the memo contains inaccurate information and offers a false picture, according to Bloomberg News.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday the memo was still being reviewed and “there’s always a chance” that it would not be released.

The memo has become a lightning rod in a bitter partisan fight over the FBI amid ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and any possible collusion by Trump’s campaign, something both Russia and Trump have denied.

Republicans, who blocked an effort to release a counterpoint memo by Democrats on the panel, have said it shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department in seeking a warrant to conduct an intelligence eavesdropping operation.

Democrats have said the memo selectively uses highly classified materials in a misleading effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired him.

The House panel this week voted along partisan lines to release the memo. Trump has until the weekend to decide whether to make it public.

“The priority here is not our national security, it’s not the country, it’s not the interest of justice. It’s just the naked, personal interest of the president,” U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, said at an event hosted by the Axios news outlet.

Sanders told CNN Trump had not seen the memo before his address on Tuesday night or immediately afterwards.

The document was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the House committee’s Republican chairman who had recused himself from the panel’s Russia probe.

Sanders said she did not know if Nunes had worked with anyone at the White House on it: “I’m not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Katanga Johnson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Andrew Hay and Bernadette Baum)