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Democrats release Russia probe memo defending FBI surveillance

The document is the latest twist in a battle between Republicans and Democrats about the credibility of multiple inquiries into links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Two weeks after President Donald Trump blocked its full release, the US House Intelligence Committee has published a partially censored version of a classified Democratic memo aiming to counter a Republican narrative that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against the US president as they investigated his ties to Russia.

The document’s release was the latest development in an extraordinary tussle between Republicans and Democrats about the credibility of multiple inquiries into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the integrity of the top US law enforcement agencies.

The document attempts to undercut and add context to some of the main points from a declassified Republican memo made public earlier this month. In that memo, Republicans went after the FBI and the Justice Department over the use of information compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor the communications of one-time Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The Republican memo included the assertion that the FBI obtained a surveillance warrant without disclosing that Mr Steele’s anti-Trump research was paid for by Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The Democratic memo said the Justice Department disclosed “the assessed political motivation of those who hired him” and that Mr Steele was likely hired by someone “looking for information that could be used to discredit” then-candidate Mr Trump’s campaign.

Republicans said that is not enough, because the Clinton campaign and the DNC were not named. Mr Trump seized on this point in a tweet on Saturday evening: “Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were – the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!”

On February 9, the White House had objected to the Democratic memo’s release, citing national security concerns. That sent the Democrats back to negotiations with the FBI, which approved a version with parts of it blacked out. It was then declassified and released.

Mr Trump had no such concerns about the Republican memo, which he declassified in full on February 2 over strong objections from the FBI about the memo’s accuracy.

The Democratic memo asserts that the FBI’s concerns about Mr Page long predate the compilation of memos drafted by Mr Steele, now known as the Trump-Russia “dossier”, and that the government’s application to monitor Mr Page’s communications details suspicious activities he undertook during the 2016 presidential campaign. That includes a July 2016 trip to Moscow in which he gave a university commencement address.

The memo contends that the Justice Department provided “additional information from multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting” in the dossier. Most of the details of the corroborated information are blacked out, but they do appear to reference Mr Page’s meeting with Russian officials. The memo said the Justice Department did not include any “salacious allegations” about Mr Trump contained in the Steele dossier in the government’s application to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The memo also details Russian attempts to cultivate Mr Page as a spy. It cites a federal indictment of two Russian spies suspected of targeting Mr Page for recruitment and notes that the FBI interviewed him based on those suspicions in March 2016.

The Democrats said the FBI made “made only narrow use of Steele’s sources” in the government’s FISA application for Mr Page.

Republicans say that is still too much.

“Again, the fact the minority cannot outright deny that a DNC/Clinton funded document was used to wiretap an American is extremely concerning,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement.

Mr Trump has said the Republican memo “vindicates” him in the ongoing Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. But congressional Democrats and Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who helped draft the Republican memo, have said it should not be used to undermine the special counsel.

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