As new U.S. law frees inmates, prosecutors seek to lock some back up

Monae Davis plays with a grandchild, Dayrone Ferguson Jr., 2, after an interview at a halfway house in Buffalo, New York, U.S., July 16, 2019. Picture taken July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

By Andy Sullivan

BUFFALO, N.Y. (Reuters) – Monae Davis walked out of prison on March 7, thanks to a new law that eased some of the harshest aspects of the United States’ war on drugs.

Now the U.S. Justice Department is trying to lock him back up.

As Davis, 44, looks for work and re-connects with his family, U.S. prosecutors are working to undo a federal judge’s decision that shaved six years off his 20-year prison sentence under the First Step Act, a sweeping criminal-justice reform signed into law by President Donald Trump last December.

“They’re prosecutors and it’s their job to make it hard on people,” he said. “Do I think it is right? No, it’s not fair.”

Even as thousands of prison inmates have been released by judges under the new law, federal prosecutors have fought scores of petitions for reduced sentences and are threatening to put more than a dozen inmates already released back behind bars, Reuters found in an analysis of these cases.

The reason: the Justice Department says the amount of drugs they handled was too large to qualify for a reduced sentence.

Davis, for example, reached a deal in 2009 with U.S. attorneys in western New York to plead guilty to selling 50 grams or more of crack, resulting in his 20-year sentence. Under First Step guidelines, that carries a minimum sentence of five years, less than half the time he has already served.

But prosecutors say Davis should not get a break, because in his plea deal he admitted to handling between 1.5 kilograms and 4.5 kilograms, which even under current guidelines is too high to qualify for a sentence reduction.

In a statement, the Justice Department said it is trying to ensure that prisoners seeking relief under the First Step Act aren’t treated more leniently than defendants now facing prosecution.

The department said prosecutors now have a greater incentive than previously to bring charges that more closely reflect the total amount of drugs they believe to be involved.

“This is a fairness issue,” the department said.

A TOUTED ACHIEVEMENT

Passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, the First Step Act stands out as a rare bipartisan achievement in an era of sharp political divisions. Trump has invited ex-offenders to the White House and his State of the Union speech.

The law allows inmates who are serving time for selling crack cocaine to ask a judge to reduce their prison sentences. It’s a belated recognition, supporters say, that tough-on-crime policies that required lengthy prison terms for crack dealers were too punitive and fell most heavily on African-Americans.

More than 1,100 inmates have been released so far under this provision in the new law, according to the Justice Department.

In most of the 1,100 sentence-reduction cases, U.S. prosecutors did not oppose the inmate’s release. But in at least 81 cases, Reuters found, Justice Department lawyers have tried – largely unsuccessfully so far – to keep offenders behind bars. They argue that judges should base their decision on the total amount of drugs that were found to be involved during the investigation, rather than the often smaller or more vague amount laid out in the law they violated years ago.

The difference between the two amounts in these cases is often significant – and, depending on whether a judge agrees with prosecutors’ objections, can mean years of continued incarceration rather than immediate release.

Regional prosecutors’ offices, though they often enjoy great autonomy, have made it clear that they are operating on instructions from Washington.

One prosecutor in western Virginia in April objected to nine sentence reductions she had previously not opposed, citing Justice Department guidelines.

The federal government has lost 73 of 81 cases in which the issue has arisen so far, according to the Reuters analysis.

Prosecutors have appealed at least three of those decisions and indicated they intend to appeal 12 more.

If they succeed, men like Davis would return to prison.

First Step Act advocates say the Justice Department is undercutting the intent of the law.

“Many of these people have served in prison for five, 10, 15, 20 years and more. It’s time for them to be able to get on with their lives, and the notion the Department of Justice is just going to keep nagging at them and appealing these cases is not what we ever had in mind,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, one of the law’s authors, told Reuters.

Florida resident Gregory Allen, freed in March, appeared with Trump at a ceremony celebrating the new law in April. Federal prosecutors in Tampa, meanwhile, had filed paperwork to appeal that decision and force him back to prison. They dropped the appeal three weeks later, without explanation.

Legal experts say they are aware of few other cases in which the federal government has tried to re-incarcerate someone who has been freed due to a sentence reduction.

“It’s particularly cruel,” said Mary Price, an attorney with Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonpartisan group. “The whole point of the First Step Act was to give some relief to people who were sentenced to unduly long sentences.”

A TURBULENT LIFE

According to court documents and his own account, Davis has led a turbulent life. The son of a prostitute who entered the witness protection program when testifying in a criminal case, Davis was given a new name and moved to New Orleans when he was seven years old.

By the time he was fifteen, back in Buffalo, both parents and a younger brother were dead and he was selling drugs. He dropped out of high school.

He killed a woman accidentally when he was nineteen, he said, and records show he eventually pleaded guilty to state manslaughter charges.

By the time he was 30, federal agents say, Davis oversaw a network that sold crack and cocaine across western New York and Pennsylvania.

“Your life has been a disaster, and maybe not all of it your fault,” U.S. Judge William Skretny told him in 2009 as he sentenced him.

In March, the same judge ruled that Davis should be freed under the First Step Act.

“I fell off the chair,” Davis recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Prosecutors told the court they intend to appeal. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy Jr., declined to comment on Davis’s case, but said in a prepared statement that asking for appellate review ” is consistent with our mission of seeing to it that justice is done in each case.”

Meanwhile, Davis is learning to use a smartphone and planning to start welding classes in September. Eventually, he says, he aims to run a cleaning service or auto shop and set aside money for his six grandchildren so they can have a better life than he did.

“I know God has a plan for me,” he said. “I know I’m not finished yet.”

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Julie Marquis)

Mueller says charging Trump was never an option for Russia probe

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a statement on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said on Wednesday his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was never going to end with criminal charges against President Donald Trump and indicated it was up to Congress to decide if impeachment proceedings are justified.

In his first public comments since starting the investigation in May 2017, Mueller said Justice Department policy prevented him from bringing charges against a sitting president, telling reporters it was “not an option we would consider.”

But he also said his two-year investigation did not clear Trump of improper behavior and pointed out there were other ways to hold presidents accountable.

“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing,” Mueller said as he announced his resignation from the Justice Department.

Democrats in Congress are debating whether to try to move ahead with impeachment, an effort that is almost certain to fall short in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The White House and several top Republicans said it was time to move on to other matters, while several Democratic presidential candidates called for impeachment.

“What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral,” Senator Kamala Harris said on Twitter.

“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so,” said Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

A redacted version of Mueller’s report was published in April, concluding that Russia repeatedly interfered in the 2016 election and that Trump’s election campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials, but did not establish a criminal conspiracy with Moscow to win the White House.

Mueller’s report also declined to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, although the report outlined 10 instances in which Trump tried to impede the investigation, including seeking to have Mueller fired.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

TRUMP DECLARES ‘CASE CLOSED’

Trump, who has repeatedly denounced Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and “hoax” meant to hobble his presidency, said the matter was settled.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” he said on Twitter. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”

Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, said he would not elaborate beyond what was contained in his 448-page report, signaling to Democrats that he was unlikely to provide them more ammunition for impeachment if he were to testify on Capitol Hill.

“Beyond what I’ve said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further,” he said.

He did not take questions after making his statement.

The House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, said relitigating Mueller’s findings would only divide the country. “It is time to move on from the investigation and start focusing on real solutions for the American people,” he said.

Only one Republican so far, Representative Justin Amash, has said Trump has committed impeachable offenses. “The ball is in our court, Congress,” he said on Twitter.

Mueller’s investigation ensnared dozens of people, including several top Trump advisers and a series of Russian nationals and companies.

Among them are his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is serving 7 1/2 years in prison for financial crimes and lobbying violations, and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who recently began a three-year sentence for campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress.

Since the report’s release, Democratic lawmakers have tried without success to get the unredacted report and underlying evidence.

Barr now is leading a review of the origins of the Russia investigation in what is the third known inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the matter. Trump harbors suspicions that the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama started the investigation in 2016 to undermine his presidency.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Trott)

Trump doubles down on Obamacare fight, asks court to overturn law

FILE PHOTO - A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up its attack on the Obamacare health care law, telling a federal appeals court it agrees with a Texas judge’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The Justice Department in a two-sentence letter to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit filed on Monday said it backed the December ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth that found the Affordable Care Act violated the U.S. Constitution because it required people to buy health insurance.

O’Connor ruled on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 20 Republican-led states including Texas, Alabama and Florida, that said a Trump-backed change to the U.S. tax code made the law unconstitutional.

The 2010 law, seen as the signature domestic achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, has been a flash point of American politics since it passed, with Republicans including Trump repeatedly attempting to overturn it.

Democrats made defending the law a powerful messaging tool in the run-up to the November elections when polls showed that eight in 10 Americans wanted to defend the law’s most popular benefits including protections for insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions. The strategy paid off and Democrats won a broad 38-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joseph Hunt and other federal officials wrote in the Monday letter. They said they would file a more extensive legal briefing later.

Obamacare survived a 2012 legal challenge at the Supreme Court when a majority of justices ruled the individual mandate aspect of the program was a tax that Congress had the authority to impose.

In December, O’Connor ruled that after Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax bill passed by Congress last year that eliminated the penalties, the individual mandate could no longer be considered constitutional.

A group of 17 mostly Democratic-led states including California and New York on Monday argued that the law was constitutional.

“The individual plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the resulting law because they suffer no legal harm from the existence of a provision that offers them a lawful choice between buying insurance or doing nothing,” they wrote in court papers.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott)

FBI not properly assessing potential U.S. maritime terrorism threats: report

FILE PHOTO: A sign of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen outside of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation is not taking appropriate steps to review and assess potential maritime terrorism risks facing U.S. sea ports, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found.

The audit, released on Thursday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, found that while top FBI officials believe the country faces a low maritime terrorism threat, that view is actually based on “incomplete and potentially inaccurate information.”

Moreover, the audit found that the FBI had not conducted its own formal assessment of the matter.

In a letter to Horowitz dated Aug. 30 that was released as part of the final audit, FBI Acting Section Chief Thomas Seiler for the External Audit and Compliance Section of the Inspection Division said the FBI concurs with all of the report’s recommendations and will work to implement them.

In 2005, the FBI created a Maritime Security Program as part of its National Joint Terrorism Task Force in its counterterrorism division. That program is meant to “prevent, penetrate, and dismantle criminal acts of terrorism” directed at ports.

The audit said that top FBI officials believed the terrorism threat in this space was low based on a small number of maritime incidents and investigations logged into its database.

However, the inspector general’s office found that the FBI was not properly coding maritime-related events into its database, and identified at least 10 incidents in the system that were not categorized correctly.

In addition, the report was critical of the role the FBI plays in helping the federal government vet port and rail workers and truck drivers who are able to gain unescorted access to ports through the use of biometric smart transportation security cards.

Although the program for issuing such cards falls to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a part of the Department of Homeland Security, the audit uncovered “significant deficiencies” related to the FBI’s role in providing information to TSA, such as information about terrorism watch-list targets and other intelligence to help reduce the risk that someone who poses a threat may be granted unfettered access to U.S. ports.

Some of the specific findings in the report were redacted due to national security.

However, in one section of the report that was unredacted, the audit revealed that FBI memos documenting threats that certain individuals may have posed were not shared with TSA.

Those unidentified people were later removed from the FBI’s terrorism watch list and still have transportation security cards.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Justice Department probes Catholic Church sex abuse in Pennsylvania

Storm clouds pass over a Roman Catholic church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into child sex abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, four Roman Catholic Church dioceses said on Thursday.

The dioceses of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and Allentown told Reuters that they had received federal subpoenas following a state grand jury report that alleged over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over 70 years. The Associated Press first reported on Thursday the Justice Department investigation.

The dioceses said they were cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment.

The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia declined to comment.

An 884-page report made public in August by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro after a two-year investigation contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen. Shapiro said at the time that it was largely based on documents from secret archives kept by the dioceses, including handwritten confessions by priests.

The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died.

In September, U.S. Catholic bishops said they would set up a hotline for accusations of sexual abuse against clergy members and lay persons employed by the Church.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Andrew Hay Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Trump says close to finalizing effective ban on gun bump stocks

A bump fire stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, U.S., October 4, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday his administration is just a few weeks away from finalizing a regulation that would ban so-called bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns.

“We’re knocking out bump stocks,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “We’re in the final two or three weeks, and I’ll be able to write out bump stocks.”

A year ago in Las Vegas, gunman Stephen Paddock used bump stocks on 12 of his weapons in a mass shooting that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds.

Authorities said his ability to fire hundreds of rounds per minute over the course of 10 minutes from his perch in a 32nd-floor hotel suite was a major factor in the high casualty count.

While machine guns are outlawed in the United States, bump stocks are not.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in March the Justice Department was proposing a rule that would effectively ban the devices. In February, Trump had signed a memorandum directing the department to make the regulatory change.

The change required a public comment period before taking effect.

“We are now at the final stages of the procedure,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Frances Kerry)

U.S. charges hundreds in major healthcare fraud, opioid crackdown

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses a news conference to announce a nation-wide health care fraud and opioid enforcement action, at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against 601 people including doctors for taking part in healthcare frauds that resulted in over $2 billion in losses and contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic in some cases.

The arrests came as part of what the department said was the largest healthcare fraud takedown in U.S. history and included 162 doctors and other suspects charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing addictive opioid painkillers.

“Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients – vulnerable people suffering from addiction – and they see dollar signs,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

The arrests came as part of an annual fraud takedown overseen by the Justice Department. The crackdown resulted in authorities bringing dozens of unrelated cases involving alleged frauds that cost government healthcare programs and insurers more than $2 billion.

Officials sought in the latest crackdown to emphasize their efforts to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the epidemic caused more than 42,000 deaths from opioid overdoses in the United States in 2016.

In a report released on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General said about 460,000 patients covered by Medicare received high amounts of opioids in 2017 and 71,000 were at risk of misuse or overdose.

Those figures were slightly down from 2016, but the report said the high level of opioid use remained a concern. The report said almost 300 prescribers had “questionable prescribing” that warranted further scrutiny.

Many of the criminal cases announced on Thursday involved charges against medical professionals who authorities said had contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic by participating in the unlawful distribution of prescription painkillers.

The cases included charges in Texas against a pharmacy chain owner and two other people accused of using fraudulent prescriptions to fill bulk orders for over 1 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills that were sold to drug couriers.

“The perpetrators really are despicable and greedy people,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a press conference.

The Justice Department also announced other cases unrelated to opioids, including schemes to bill the government healthcare programs Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare as well as private insurers for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

Trump throws gun purchase age to states, courts

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Sacconne during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said he would wait for the courts to rule before acting on raising the minimum age for some gun purchases, putting off one of the more contentious gun safety measures he had backed after the latest U.S. school shooting.

The proposal to raise the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21 was not part of a modest set of gun safety proposals announced on Sunday night by Trump administration officials, which included training teachers to carry guns in schools and improving background checks.

“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump has said he believes armed teachers would deter school shootings and better protect students when they happen. The idea, already in place in some states, is backed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby.

The Republican president, who championed gun rights during his 2016 campaign, vowed to take action to prevent school shootings after a gunman killed 17 students and faculty at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

The modest fixes proposed by the White House stepped back from some of the more sweeping changes Trump had considered after the latest school shooting.

Some of the more controversial proposals, including raising the minimum purchase age or requiring background checks for guns bought at gun shows or on the internet, will be studied by a commission headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, administration officials said.

The Justice Department will also provide an unspecified amount of grants to states that want to train teachers to carry guns in school.

Asked why the age limit proposal was dropped from the administration plan, DeVos told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday that the plan was the first step in a lengthy process.

“Everything is on the table,” she said.

On arming teachers, DeVos said communities should have the tool “but nobody should be mandated to do it.”

Trump has also directed the Justice Department to write new regulations banning so-called bump stocks, devices that turn firearms into machine guns.

“Very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by White House. Legislation moving forward. Bump Stocks will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!” Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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 

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)