A controversial memo released on Friday shows high-ranking members of the FBI were unfairly targeting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, argues Rep. Doug Collins.
Gainesville’s Republican congressman has in recent months been a critic of the FBI’s handling of both the investigation into President Trump’s campaign and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, first revealed the existence of a secret memo written by Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee detailing what he described as abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court system — a court that considers government requests to surveil communications that could involve American citizens. The court’s proceedings and records are sealed from public view.
Collins sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the FISC court, also called FISA courts for the court’s enabling law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
However, it was up to the House Intelligence Committee and the White House to authorize release of the classified memo on Friday.
President Donald Trump, who advocated the memo’s release over the fierce objections of the Justice Department and the FBI, told reporters the document shows “a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.”
“I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “You want to know the truth. I think it’s a disgrace. What’s going on in this country, I think it’s a disgrace.”
The memo, which the FBI has said is inaccurate and missing critical context, asserts that current and former FBI and Justice Department leaders signed off on a surveillance warrant to monitor communications of a former Trump campaign associate.
However, many Republicans said the memo is evidence of FBI bias against Trump during the presidential campaign — Collins included.
“It just shows that there were some safeguards that should have been in place that were ignored and the court didn’t catch,” Collins told The Times on Friday about the FBI’s request to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page, “and this just goes to show some of the bias that we’ve seen from some of the higher-level officials at DOJ.”
The document also asserts that opposition research, conducted by a British spy and funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign, formed a critical basis for the allegations contained in the warrant application.
Many Republicans say that research should not have been a basis for the warrant because it contains unproven allegations.
The release of the memo is likely to further divide Trump and his FBI and Justice Department leaders, and the president lashed out anew on Friday morning on Twitter. He has supported the memo release in apparent hopes that it could help undermine the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, which he has called a “witch hunt.”
Collins told The Times that Friday’s news “has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation — it just has to do with some of the (people) who may have worked on that investigation.”
Instead, the real issue is about problems with applications to the FISA court and the court itself, he said.
“The FISA court itself (is under) the Judiciary Committee, which I serve on. It’s really technically not the Intelligence Committee,” Collins said. “The court itself and the warrant process all comes through judiciary, so I think it’s going to highlight some discussion on some FISA court reform and some other things.”
He said he believes the memo and other information show the FBI intentionally withheld information from the court in a politically motivated act that allowed them to collect information on an American citizen. He said Congress needs to look at better ways to “tighten this up to protect people’s personal liberties and freedoms.”
Democrats say the memo cherry-picks intelligence in an effort to smear law enforcement investigating whether Trump associates collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.
“This is designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI, to undermine the investigation, to give the president additional fodder to attack the investigation. And it’s a tremendous disservice to the American people,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS “This Morning.”
The document was written by GOP lawmakers as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department early in Russia investigation, before special counsel Mueller was appointed to take it over.
The House intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday to put the memo out, giving Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Trump also had the power to declassify the document himself.
Democrats on the intelligence panel made a last-ditch effort Wednesday evening to stop the release, saying the memo had been “secretly altered” by the Republicans who wrote it. In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Schiff wrote that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the vote Monday.
“The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release,” Schiff said in the letter.
Schiff asked Nunes for another vote on the memo, but Republicans didn’t waver. Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said the committee vote was “procedurally sound.”
This all comes as special counsel Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey. Republicans have intensified their pressure on the Justice Department as Mueller’s probe has moved closer to Trump’s inner circle.
Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believed the GOP House members’ document would validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him. The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his claim that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.
Comey weighed in on Twitter as well: “All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.”
Meanwhile, Collins said the investigation into the memo, the FBI and the FISA court process is “just in the early stages.”
“There’s a lot more that’s going to come from this,” he said.
Associated Press reporters Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick and Chad Day contributed to this report.