Donald Trump backs release of explosive memo, alleging FBI abuses


WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump is set to approve the release of an explosive memo alleging abuse of power in the FBI’s probe of his election campaign, a White House official said Thursday.

Rejecting entreaties from the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation to block the document on the grounds it could expose top-secret counterintelligence data, the official told AFP the president’s green light would likely come on Friday.

“The president is OK with it,” the official said. “I doubt there will be any redactions. It’s in Congress’s hands after that.”

The four-page memo was written by Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and purports to show the Justice Department and the FBI as deeply politicised anti-Trump agencies.

Its release would amount to an outright rejection of the FBI’s extraordinary warning Tuesday that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Democrats and critics in the intelligence community say the release is a stunt aimed at casting doubt on the independence of the Justice Department and FBI, using very selective information that cannot be countered publicly without revealing more secrets about government counterintelligence operations.

They say the ultimate goal of Nunes, with Trump’s support, is to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which has edged closer to the president himself.

Nunes “seeks to release a conspiracy-themed memo that selectively cherry-picks classified information intended to discredit the past work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and ultimately Special Counsel Mueller,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Focus on ‘Russia dossier’

Based on highly classified documents dealing with Russian espionage, Nunes’ memo is his summary of what lay behind the FBI obtaining a so-called FISA national security warrant in 2016 to surveil Trump campaign official Carter Page, who had many Russian contacts.

Nunes alleges that the basis of the warrant application was the “Russia dossier,” information on contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

The dossier remains contentious and unproven and was financed in part by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – a fact that Nunes says shows the FBI and Justice Department’s anti-Trump bias and abuse of power.

The story the Nunes memo is expected to paint tallies with Trump’s longstanding claims that allegations of collusion between his campaign and a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election are “fake news.”

Ryan: issue is civil liberties

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, defended the memo Thursday as part of an effort to protect American civil liberties.

“This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice,” Ryan said.

“What it is is the Congress’s legitimate function of oversight to make sure that the FISA process is being used correctly,” he said, adding: “This does not implicate the Mueller investigation.”

Other Republicans, including Representative Jeff Duncan, seemed less reticent to cast it all in a political light.

“Having read ‘The Memo,’ the FBI is right to have ‘grave concerns’ – as it will shake the organization down to its core – showing Americans just how the agency was weaponised by the Obama officials/DNC/HRC to target political adversaries,” Duncan tweeted.

The frenzy over the memo led to speculation that Wray could end up the second FBI director to lose his job in a year after Trump fired James Comey in May. Wray notably pledged in his confirmation hearing last August to defend the agency’s independence from politics.

Retired FBI agent James Gagliano, who served fewer than four different directors, said clashes between the White House and the agency are normal, and that Wray can hold his own.

“In light of already having fired one FBI director… I don’t think Trump would take a chance on firing another one. I think Republicans and Democrats alike would be up in arms over that,” he told AFP.

The FBI Agents Association said in a statement that it “appreciates FBI Director Chris Wray standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the FBI as we work together to protect our country from criminal and national security threats.”