The Guardian, UK: Donald Trump attacked top officials he appointed at the justice department and FBI on Friday morning, accusing them of bias in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
For days, Washington has braced for the release of a controversial memo by the office of Devin Nunes, a California Republican who chairs the House intelligence committee and a defender of the president. The memo reportedly imputes partisan and unethical conduct in the early stages of the FBI investigation, which began before the 2016 election.
The FBI has urged the White Houseagainst releasing the memo, suggesting it is misleading, and issued a rare unsigned statement on the subject, saying: “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Democrats have also accused Republicans of omitting key context, and lawmakers have fought for days over whether to make the memo public.
On Friday morning, the president tweeted disparagement of justice department leadership.
“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,” he wrote. “Rank & File are great people!”
The tweet dovetails with a Republican effort to impugn the FBI investigation, led by Nunes. His memo reportedly alleges that the FBI improperly gained a wiretap on a Trump campaign adviser, based in part on information supplied by the former British spy Christopher Steele. Trump is expected to approve the release of the four-page document, which Democrats fear may be used by Trump as a pretext to fire justice department officials and either close or cripple the Russia investigation.
When Trump took office, he appointed Jeff Sessions, the first Republican senator to endorse his candidacy, to lead the justice department. Sessions eventually recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, however, when it was revealed that he had met with Russia’s ambassador to the US during the campaign, meetings he did not disclose during his confirmation hearings.
The recusal enraged the president, and oversight of the FBI investigation fell to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. The FBI director at the time, James Comey, spoke with the president on several occasions shortly after Trump’s inauguration, and Comey has testified to Congress that in one meeting Trump demanded his loyalty.
Trump eventually fired Comey, telling NBC: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”
He later appointed Christopher Wray, another justice department veteran, to replace Comey. Rosenstein named former FBI director Robert Mueller to act as special counsel overseeing the wide-ranging investigation, which covers Russia’s meddling in the election, what relationship if any members of the Trump campaign had with that interference, and potential obstruction of justice by the White House.
Late on Thursday, Comey praised Wray’s stand against the White House, tweeting: “All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would.”
He then urged Americans to “take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up.”
Democrats have furiously attacked the document and the motives behind it. They describe it as partial, misleading and deliberately designed to sabotage the Mueller investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians working for the Kremlin.
On Thursday, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, accused Nunes of turning the intelligence committee’s proceedings into a “charade”. In a letter to the House speaker Paul Ryan, Pelosi said Republicans had embarked on a “cover-up campaign” to hide “the truth about the Trump-Russia scandal”.
The precise contents of Nunes’s memo, which contains classified information, remain unclear. But reports indicate that it concerns Carter Page, an energy consultant who joined Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy adviser. It reportedly claims that the FBI and justice department may have committed abuses when they applied for a warrant in October 2016 to wiretap Page’s communications.
The application was made in part with material supplied by Steele, the memo alleges. According to reports, the memo says the FBI failed to inform the judge who approved the warrant that Democrats had paid for Steele’s research. Steele claims that in summer 2016 Page held secret discussions with officials in Moscow. Page denies this.
But the memo appears to omit the fact that the FBI had known of Page since at least April 2013, when he met with a Russian career intelligence officer, Victor Podobnyy, in New York. Page’s encounters with Russia’s foreign intelligence service were documented in court papers in 2015, though they left Page unnamed. A member of the Russian spy ring in New York, Evgeny Buryakov, later admitted he was an illegal undercover agent.
Nunes has rejected criticism, accusing the FBI of “surveillance abuses” and dismissing what he called the bureau’s “spurious objections” to the memo’s release . He also opposes the release of a counter-memo written by Democrats. Republicans have largely supported the release of the memo, even amid reports that the president has demanded political loyalty from Rosenstein and the FBI’s former deputy director.
“Let it all out, get it all out there, cleanse the organization,” House speaker Ryan told colleagues at a breakfast event on Tuesday, referring to the FBI.
Mueller has largely carried out his investigation in silence. His team has charged Trump’s former campaign chief and an aide on money-laundering and conspiracy charges; Trump’s former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI; and a former campaign adviser who tipped off an Australian official to his knowledge about Kremlin-hacked emails, starting off the FBI investigation in 2016, has also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.