The Russia saga just produced 'one of the darker days of the past 40 years for democracy'

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesRobert Mueller.
  • A slew of revelations on Monday may amount to a turning point in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
  • On Monday, Andrew McCabe stepped down as FBI deputy director and Republicans voted to publicly release a classified memo said to allege surveillance abuse by top law-enforcement agencies.
  • Republicans insist they have the right to be concerned about potential corruption within the FBI and the Justice Department. But Democrats argue that attacks against law enforcement are meant to undermine the Russia investigation.

In less than 24 hours, Andrew McCabe was forced out as deputy director of the FBI, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a classified memo said to allege surveillance abuse by the FBI and the Department of Justice, and Democrats said they learned the depth of GOP-led inquiries into corruption within those agencies.

It was a series of dramatic developments that some political pundits say marks a turning point in the special counsel Robert Mueller investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

Monday “was a big day for some people who put party over country,” Walter Schaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said in a tweet Monday night. “It was one of the darker days of the past 40 years for democracy.”

Carl Bernstein, the investigative journalist who helped uncover the Watergate scandal in the 1970s that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, said in an interview on CNN that Americans may look back on it as the “Monday night slaughter of the administration of justice and our institutions of justice in the United States.”

The secret memo

Republicans believe those concerns are exaggerated.

For weeks, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have called for the release of a classified memo, spearheaded by its Republican chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, that they say outlines evidence of bias in the FBI against President Donald Trump.

On Monday, the committee’s Republicans voted to release the memo, clearing a key bureaucratic hurdle and giving Trump five days to decide whether to accept the request.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said in a letter to Nunes last week that it would be “extraordinarily reckless for the Committee to disclose such information publicly” without first giving the FBI and the DOJ the chance to redact any classified information and correct any inconsistencies.

On Sunday, Nunes finally gave FBI Director Christopher Wray that chance, Politico reported.

McCabe forced out

On Monday, McCabe announced he would leave the FBI. The New York Times reported that Wray had expressed concerns about a coming report from the DOJ’s inspector general and suggested demoting McCabe.

The Times said the report is expected to criticise aspects of the FBI’s handling of its investigations into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, as well as address whether McCabe should have recused himself because his wife had received nearly $US500,000 from the political organisation of a friend of Clinton’s during her ultimately unsuccessful bid for a Virginia Senate seat in 2015.

Republicans, who have in recent weeks intensified their scrutiny over the integrity of the FBI and the DOJ, insist they are right to be concerned about possible corruption within top law-enforcement ranks, including whether the agencies engaged in improper surveillance.

“There’s a very legitimate issue here as to whether or not an American’s civil liberties were violated,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a press conference Tuesday, adding that there “may have been malfeasance” within the FBI.

Trump has led the charge in attacking McCabe since firing James Comey as FBI director in May. He has repeatedly called into question McCabe’s integrity, suggesting the FBI’s second-in-command let Clinton off the hook in the bureau’s 2016 email investigation because of his own political biases.

Democrats fire back

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, are said to have written a memo of their own to counter Republicans’ claims of anti-Trump bias and corruption within the justice apparatus.

Amid Monday’s revelations, Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s ranking Democrat, slammed the Republicans’ vote to publicly release their memo. He said the FBI and the DOJ didn’t have a chance to review its contents, despite the fact that Wray, the FBI director, met with Nunes and viewed the memo over the weekend.

Schiff also told reporters that he learned on Monday that Republicans had opened an investigation into the FBI and the DOJ,according to CBS News.

Republicans argued that Schiff mischaracterized what they said and that any investigation into the FBI’s conduct was part of the committee’s larger Russia probe, CBS News said.

Also on Monday, the Trump administration announced it would not seek to impose new sanctions against Kremlin operatives for meddling in the 2016 US election. Trump has publicly expressed doubt about the US intelligence community’s conclusion about Russia’s interference, often portraying the Russia investigation as a domestic attempt to delegitimize his presidency.

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