Maryland Democrats blasted the release of a controversial memo Friday that Republicans said raised questions about how the FBI handled surveillance of a Trump campaign associate.
Crafted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, the memo’s central assertion is that Justice Department officials relied heavily on opposition research paid for by Democrats to obtain a warrant to monitor Carter Page as part of its investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. It’s not clear what other evidence those officials might have brought to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, the former top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, described the document’s release as “reckless” and a “disservice.” After reading both the Republican memo and a Democratic response that has not been released to the public, Ruppersberger said it was clear to him that the warrant application was based on “far more” than the opposition research.
“This release is clearly a calculated political move with the single purpose of discrediting the investigation of special counsel [Robert] Mueller into alleged Russian interference in our election,” Ruppersberger said in a statement.
Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed.
“Rather than marshaling an all-of-government response to protect America from a national security threat coming from Russia, the president continues to do all he can to marginalize the rule of law and the independence of the Justice Department, while crippling the intelligence and law enforcement professionals who work tirelessly to keep our country safe,” Cardin said in a statement.
Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, Maryland’s only Republican member of Congress, said he believes the document justifies the contention made by President Donald Trump and his supporters that Justice Department officials had conspired to undermine his campaign.
“In the interest of transparency, I thoroughly encourage the people of Maryland to read through the memo, and see firsthand the extent to which our nation’s intelligence system was manipulated to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Harris said in statement.
The memo doesn’t deal directly with the most significant questions underlying special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Four people have been charged in that investigation, including two who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
As had been expected, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein has come under fire from Trump after the memo’s release. The former U.S. Attorney from Maryland, a Republican and Trump appointee, approved an extension of the surveillance of Page last year. It is Rosenstein who must ultimately decide what to do with whatever information Mueller finds.
Asked in the Oval Office on Friday whether he has confidence in Rosenstein, Trump responded dismissively: “You figure that one out.”
With a few exceptions, reaction to the document fell along party lines.
“Nobody has any doubts regarding what this is all about: Undermining the special counsel’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government to influence our election and undermine our democracy,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Minority Whip and Southern Maryland lawmaker.