Explosive memo released as Trump escalates fight over Russia probe

The memo alleges the FBI concealed the Democratic ties of a source the agency used to justify surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor with ties to Russia.

US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress on Friday escalated a campaign against US law enforcement agencies over their probe of Trump’s ties to Russia, releasing a disputed memo that the FBI warned was misleading and inaccurate.

The previously classified document, written by Republicans on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, alleges that the federal probe of potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia was a product of political bias against Trump at the FBI and Justice Department.

Ignoring a plea from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Trump approved the memo’s release without redactions, deepening an extraordinary breach between the president and senior law enforcement officials over a probe that has dogged him during his first year in office.

Democrats said the four-page memo mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information and was intended to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal probe into the Russia matter launched in May 2017 that grew out of an earlier FBI investigation. They warned Trump against using it as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired Mueller and oversees the investigation, or Mueller himself.

Mueller also is examining whether Trump has committed obstruction of justice in trying to thwart the Russia probe.

Asked by reporters whether the memo made him more likely to fire Rosenstein or whether he had confidence in him, Trump replied, “You figure that one out.” Dismissing Rosenstein would likely ignite a huge political firestorm, as his firing of FBI chief James Comey did last year.

A White House official later said there have been no discussions about firing Rosenstein.

When asked about the potential dismissal of Rosenstein, White House press spokesman Raj Shah told CNN late on Friday that there would be “no changes” at the Justice Department.

“We fully expect Rod Rosenstein to continue on as the deputy attorney general,” he said.

The memo alleges that the Federal Bureau of Investigation concealed the Democratic ties of a source the agency used to justify surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor with ties to Russia. The memo revealed the names of senior FBI and Justice Department officials including Rosenstein who it said had signed off on this.

“I think it’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country,” Trump told reporters when asked about the memo, adding that “a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.”

Some lawmakers accused Trump of playing into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin after, as Republican Senator John McCain put it, Russia “engaged in an elaborate plot to interfere in an American election and undermine our democracy.”

“If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him,” McCain, who is being treated for brain cancer, said in a statement.

Mueller’s probe has led to guilty pleas by two of Trump’s foreign policy advisers to charges of lying to the FBI, and indictments of former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates.

Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” denying any collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. Moscow has denied any election meddling.