The long-hyped Republican memo on the Russia investigation resolved nothing — although it did offer an ominous glimpse of the fracture that awaits in the nation’s politics when special counsel Robert Mueller wraps up his probe.
The gulf between the parties is almost certain to widen this week, as President Donald Trump argues that the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes Friday proves the entire saga is a “witch hunt” and an “American disgrace.”
Democrats are cranking up pressure on the President to declassify their dueling memo, which argues the Republican version was misleading and selective in its use of still secret intelligence on Russia’s effort to meddle in the 2016 election. Amid their efforts, Trump took a swipe at the intelligence committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, in a Monday morning tweet, deriding him as “little” and calling him as “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”
The confrontation, rooted Republican claims that the FBI abused FISA surveillance tools in securing a warrant to eavesdrop on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, exposes the polarization wrought by the Russia drama.
The recriminations over the issue are now raising questions about whether a neutral investigation of a sitting President is even possible, given the poisoned political times.
Many Republicans used the memo to close ranks around Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan, understanding sentiment in the Republican grassroots over the Russia issue, backed the release of the document even though he made a somewhat half-hearted argument that it did not impugn the Mueller investigation in any way.
At the same time, liberals, some with ingrained suspicion of the FBI and angry about how it handled the Clinton email probe, are now cast in the unaccustomed role as defender of the bureau that has been dragged into the toxic climate at risk to its long-term reputation for political neutrality.
The deepening showdown over the memo comes at another fraught moment in Washington. Unless Congress reaches a funding deal, the government could close down on Thursday, though Democrats, who appeared to come off worse in the short government shutdown last month may be less willing push things to the limit this time around. But the issue that sparked that imbroglio, the failure of the White House and Democrats to agree to safeguard hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, appears to be no closer to resolution after Trump staked out a tough negotiating stance in his State of the Union address last week.
Democratic leaders went on offense Sunday, warning that any effort by Trump to use the findings of the GOP memo to fire Justice Department and FBI officials would spark grave consequences. They also called on the Intelligence Committee to approve its rebuttal and said Trump should allow it to be made public.
“To say that that’s the end of the investigation, that this is all that Donald Trump needs to fire (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein or to fire (special counsel Robert) Mueller, I’ll just tell you, this could precipitate a constitutional crisis,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to Trump to urge him to facilitate the release of the Democratic memo, written by Schiff.
“A refusal to release the Schiff memo in light of the fact that Chairman Devin Nunes’ memo was released and is based on the same underlying documents will confirm the American people’s worst fears that the release of Chairman Nunes’ memo was only intended to undermine Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation,” Schumer wrote.
Democrats on the panel are expected to push for a vote on Monday, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN’s Manu Raju.
If approved, Trump would have five days to object to the document’s release.
The Nunes memo claimed that judges on a special FISA court were not told that a report by former British spy Christopher Steele on Trump and Russia, used as part of the warrant application, was partly paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Democrats, however, said that the FISA court was told of the political motivation behind the report, though Clinton and the DNC were not named, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
Trump’s critics believe the purpose of the memo, and coordination between Nunes and the White House, is partly designed to discredit Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation.
Trump left no doubt Friday that Rosenstein’s fate is hanging in the balance, telling reporters “you figure that one out” when asked whether he had confidence in the deputy attorney general, whom he appointed to the job at the Justice Department last year.
The White House said Friday there are no current plans to fire Rosenstein, but the President’s camp has seized on the report to escalate the campaign — even though the alleged abuses by the FBI occurred before he was appointed and the memo does not answer the key questions of whether there was collusion between the Trump camp and Russia in the 2016 campaign or whether the President obstructed justice in firing former FBI Director James Comey.
The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., told Fox News on Saturday that the memo is “a little bit of sweet revenge” for him and his family.