'A political hit job': US Democrats come out swinging to discredit the highly controversial Republican memo, warn against a 'constitutional crisis'

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesHouse Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
  • Led by Rep. Adam Schiff, Democrats came out in force this weekend to criticise the controversial intelligence memo released on Friday.
  • Schiff called the memo a “hit job” but claimed that a line in the memo actually confirmed the validity of the Russia investigation.
  • Other top democrats called the release “reckless” and said it did not vindicate President Donald Trump, despite his suggestions to the contrary.
  • The House Intelligence Committee is likely to take up the potential release of the Democrats’ counter-memo on Monday, according to Reuters.

Following the release of the controversial memo spearheaded by Rep. Devin Nunes on alleged misconduct by the Justice Department and the FBI, Democrats came out on the offensive against this weekend, calling the memo “reckless” and a “political hit job.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, reiterated his opposition to the claims made in the memo on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

“The interest wasn’t oversight,” Schiff told host George Stephanopoulos. “The interest was a political hit job on the FBI in the service of the president.”

The memo, released Friday,purports to show that the FBI and the Department of Justice bypassed protocol to improperly surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. While Republicans said the document promotes transparency and holds the government accountable, Democrats and top intelligence and law enforcement officials have warned that it contains a host of inaccuracies and omissions that mischaracterize the intelligence community’s work.

On Sunday, Schiff argued that not only does the memo not vindicate President Donald Trump in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation – it proves the probe is legitimate.

“What the memo indicates is the investigation didn’t begin with Carter Page, it actually began with George Papadopoulos, someone who was a foreign policy adviser for candidate Trump and someone who was meeting secretly with the Russians and talking about the stolen Clinton emails,” Schiff said.

“So quite to the contrary, even this very flawed memo demonstrates what the origin of the investigation was and that origin involved the issue of collusion,” he added.

A chorus of dissent

Other Democrats joined Schiff to deride the memo and shoot down Trump’s claims that it cleared him in the Russia investigation.

When asked whether the memo did indeed support Trump’s position, another top Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, replied: “Of course it does not.”

“The fact that the Republicans in the House refused to allow a minority report, the Democratic response to their memo, is an indication that this – they’re just bound and determined to continue to find ways to absolve this president from any responsibility,” Durbin told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee had drafted their own memo explaining why Nunes’ memo was inaccurate, but the Republicans on the committee blocked its release. The committee is going to take up the Democrats’ memo on Monday to reconsider its release, according to Reuters.

Democratic Rep. Jim Himes took issue with the accuracy of the memo, and intelligence officials’ warnings against releasing it.

“If there was a vetting process on the Nunes memo, that’s news to me,” Himes told Tapper. “And if the vetting process did occur, we know what the FBI and the Department of Justice said about the release of this memo. They said, do not do it; it would be extraordinarily reckless.”

Himes seemed to be echoing Sen. Mark Warner, who criticised the “reckless” release on Friday, saying it “demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential candidate, pointed to widespread disapproval of the memo’s release among experts.

“Law enforcement opposes this. The intelligence community opposes this. Even many Republicans oppose this,” Kaine tweeted on Friday. “This is dangerous territory, it disrespects law enforcement, and it’s an alarming partisan attack on efforts to investigate hostile foreign interference in our democracy.”

Warning against a ‘constitutional crisis’

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Nunes and other House Republicans were “part and parcel to an organised effort to obstruct” the Russia investigation.

Nadler, like Schiff, had read the underlying classified documents on which the memo bases its claims, and stood with other Democrats saying the memo omits crucial details of the narrative it presents. Nadler issued a six-page rebuttal to the memo on Saturday outlining why he believes it is “deliberately misleading.”

Schiff has said he’s worried Trump would use the memo to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is accused of extending a surveillance warrant based on a largely unverified dossier connecting Trump and Russia.

“I’m very concerned about it,” Schiff told CNN on Friday. “There’s no telling what this president is capable of.”

Durbin cautioned against the ramifications firing Rosenstein could create.

“This would be an extreme event and one that I say with some caution could create a constitutional crisis in this country,” Durbin told Tapper on Sunday. “The question at that moment is whether or not the majority Republicans in the House and the Senate will stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution if the president takes that extreme position.”

The White House has denied claims that it has any intentions to fire Rosenstein. But when asked by reporters on Friday whether he would fire the deputy attorney general, Trump refused to give a clear answer.

“You figure that one out,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post.

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