WASHINGTON — House Democrats released a heavily redacted memorandum on Saturday that was drafted to counter Republican claims that top FBI and Justice Department officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide.
President Donald Trump blocked the memo’s outright release two weeks ago, with the White House counsel warning that the document "contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages." Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee had since been haggling with the FBI over redactions.
Democrats have insisted that Trump’s deference to national security concerns in the case was hypocritical and politically motivated. Just a week before blocking their memo’s release, the president had ignored similar objections from the Justice Department and the FBI to declassify the contents of a rival Republican memo, which was based on the same underlying documents. Trump asserted, incorrectly, that the Republican document vindicated him in the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference.
The release of the Democratic rebuttal was expected to be the final volley, at least for now, in a bitter partisan fight over surveillance that has driven deep fissures through the once-bipartisan Intelligence Committee and at times pitted Trump against his own Justice Department and FBI.
The dispute and the dueling memos center on applications by the FBI in October 2016 to secure a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser suspected of being a Russian agent.
Republicans, in their 31/2-page memo, claim that top law enforcement officials seriously misled the court by failing to disclose that they were relying in part on research financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
People familiar with the Democratic document said that it contends that the FBI was more forthcoming to the surveillance court. It says that while the FBI did not name the Democrats or Clinton’s campaign, the agency did disclose to the court that it made use of information that was gathered through politically motivated means.
Democrats say their memo corrects key mischaracterizations and crucial omissions in the Republican document. While the Republican document focused on a single thread, Democrats said they tried to explain the whole tapestry of evidence against Page.
The warrant application itself remains under seal, and only a handful of lawmakers from either party have seen it. The New York Times has filed a motion asking the surveillance court to take the unusual step of unsealing it.