On Friday February 2nd, the Republican party released a controversial memo denouncing the methods of the FBI and the Justice Department in their investigation surrounding the Trump-Russia campaign connection as an abuse of surveillance powers. Despite objections from the FBI, the memo was made public to, according to the White House, bring to light incidences of serious overreach and exploitation. Justification for the memo was made clear in an authorization letter written by David Nunes, Chairman to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and signed by Donald F. McGahn II, Counsel to the President.
Based on this assessment and in light of the significant public interest in the memorandum, the President has authorized the declassification of the Memorandum. the Executive Branch stands ready to work with Congress to accommodate oversight requests consistent with applicable standards and processes, including the need to protect intelligence sources and methods.
Within the memorandum, a source of major contention revolves around the role of British spy, Christopher Steele, in the warrant application material used to authorize surveillance of Former Trump Campaign Advisor, Carter Page. Due to his numerous contacts within Russia, Page quickly became a key focus of the investigation. The information used to justify the surveillance, dubbed the “Steele dossier”, is claimed by Republicans to be corrupted in its validity, as the it failed to include the knowledge that Steele was partly financed by the Democratic National Committee and the lawyers of Hillary Clinton.
The “dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application…to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
(U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Majority Staff (February 2, 2018). Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation)
The House intelligence committee’s Democrats have prepared their own 10-page memo, which they claim adds key context to what Republicans put out on Friday. The Democratic memorandum focuses on what the Democrats claim to be “inaccuracies” and “misrepresentations” within the Republican memo. One of these distortions surrounds the nature of Mr. Steeles involvement, the memo stating that the FBI was in fact forthcoming that Steele’s input was politically motivated, though excluding the ‘how’ part. Additionally, while Republicans assert that Mr. Page’s suspicion was entirely hinged on Steele’s information, Democrats otherwise claim that his was merely one out of a myriad of compelling evidence. Further Republican allegations include the usage of a Yahoo article written by Steele, which scrutinizes Mr. Page’s links to Russia, in the citation for the warrant. This of which the Democrats also denounce as untrue.
Whether the White House deems it fit to also declassify this memo for public release is a major question. The President is yet to make a decision and has until Saturday to determine whether, like the Republican memo, this document meets the same standards for declassification, “…when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any need to protect the information.”
The vote to release the Republican memo fell along party lines and has brought into sharp contrast the polarization of the political system, particularly over the Trump administrations alleged involvement with Russia. With each party deeming the other as frauds, confusion continues to plague the efforts of Robert Mueller III in his search for the truth, of whether or not the Trump campaign and Russia were truly connected.