Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a long-awaited and freshly declassified rebuttal Saturday to Republican claims that federal officials abused the process for obtaining warrants to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump who had Russian contacts.
The Democrats' memo — parts of which were redacted to avoid revealing intelligence-gathering sources and methods — argues that the FBI had valid justification for spying on Page long before it received information in a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a British national. Steele was hired to compile opposition research on President Donald Trump when he was a candidate.
The memo also concludes that the information in the dossier was a small part of the case Justice Department officials laid out in seeking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court's permission to eavesdrop on Page and in renewal applications. And, the Democrats write, federal officials told the FISA court the FBI suspected Steele was hired by an American "looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign."
The 10-page report is a response to a memo released by majority Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month that accused FBI and DOJ officials of misleading the special court by declining to identify the political nature of the dossier's origins.
A conservative website funded by Republican mega-donor first hired the firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump during the Republican primaries. After it was clear Trump would win the Republican nomination, that funding stopped and the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign started paying Fusion GPS for research that ultimately would be included in the Steele dossier.
Democrats say there's evidence to show the court was informed appropriately.
"The Democratic response memo released today should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC," Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement. "Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests."
The White House slammed the Democrats' report in a statement issued by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
"While the Democrats’ memorandum attempts to undercut the president politically, the president supported its release in the interest of transparency," she said. "Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority’s memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign."
Both parties' memos are part of the ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded in Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Some Republicans say they believe top officials at the Justice Department and FBI have been working to undermine Trump since he won the Republican nomination nearly two years ago.