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Democrats Release Memo Countering Republicans' Claims Of Surveillance Abuses


We're going to start the program with news about those dueling memos. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have released their heavily-redacted memo rebutting claims made by Republicans that the FBI and Justice Department abused their powers in spying on a member of Trump's campaign. President Trump had blocked the release of this memo two weeks ago, making the case that the document contained sensitive information. It was written in response to the so-called Nunes memo, which claimed the FBI and DOJ had abused their surveillance authority. Congressman Adam Schiff of California is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and he pushed for the release of the counter-memo. He joins me now. Welcome.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

MCCAMMON: You have been pushing for the memo to be released because you've said the Nunes memo does not provide a full picture. What's in your memo that needed to be made public?

SCHIFF: Well, what's in the memo includes a lot of the information that the FBI provided the FISA court about Carter Page's history, that he had been the subject of Russian recruitment efforts in the past, well before the 2016 election came along. And that the FBI presented to the court information about other people in the Trump campaign, namely George Papadopoulos, who occupied the same position as Carter Page - that is, a foreign policy adviser who had also been approached by the Russians and had been informed that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And so the court knew at the time of the FISA application both a lot about Carter Page's history, a lot about the Russian activities that were going on in the country, about - approach to another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser and, importantly, about the political bias of those who hired Christopher Steele. So that was all left out of the majority memo to give a very misleading impression to the country and try to impugn the FBI.

MCCAMMON: The White House just put out a statement saying your memo, quote, "attempts to undercut the president politically." Is that not part of what this is about, undercutting arguments the president and his allies have made?

SCHIFF: No. The FBI took issue with the Nunes memo for a very good reason. It was designed to attack the FBI by cherry-picking intelligence to give the country a misleading impression. We simply supplied the material facts that the Nunes memo left out. Now, they may not reflect well on the president or his campaign or the issue of collusion that the president continues to want to deny, but nonetheless, that was part of the FISA application. And you can see why the Nunes memo left all of that out.

But I think it's important for the country to see that and know that the FBI is acting appropriately. They want to really undermine the Mueller investigation. That's what this is all about, trying to put the government on trial. And I think it's important for the public to see the true facts.

MCCAMMON: Congressman Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee, both Republicans and Democrats have now released dueling memos on this surveillance issue. But what's clear is how partisan the whole process has become. It could seem to draw a question mark over the whole investigation. Is there any way to ensure the public - to assure the public that the committee's investigation is legitimate?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, we had, I think, a good bipartisan investigation going on until our chairman did what's now known as the midnight run, where he went to the White House and presented evidence he said he had acquired from a classified source, a secret source, showing impropriety of the Obama administration. We learned soon thereafter the information he purportedly was providing he had obtained from the White House. And similarly, with this memo, we asked the chairman whether this whole thing was concocted in combination with the White House, and he wouldn't answer. When that's the case, when your chairman is operating that way, it's very hard to conduct a credible investigation. But we are, nonetheless, persevering. And I think we have learned a great deal and doing our best to focus on the Russian intervention, the U.S. person involvement and getting to the bottom of this. But it certainly has been difficult.

MCCAMMON: That's Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Thanks so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: I want to turn now to NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucus, who has been following this as well. Hello, Ryan.


MCCAMMON: So what's been the response so far from the White House?

LUCAS: Well, the White House put out a statement today saying that the Democrat's memo is an attempt to undercut the president politically. He says, or rather the White House says, that the president supported its release in the interest of transparency. Now remember, of course, that the White House initially blocked the release of this memo. Nevertheless, it says the politically-driven document fails to answer serious questions raised by the Republicans' memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate.

It then touches on - the White House does in its statement - this kind of line that we've heard a lot from the president, which is that there is no evidence of collusion, that there was no collusion during the campaign with a foreign power. And they say that there's nothing in today's memo from the Democrats that counters that fact.

MCCAMMON: And, Ryan, you've read the memo. Briefly, if you could, what new information does it provide?

LUCAS: A lot of this is stuff that we've heard from Democrats before when the Republican memo initially came out. They spent a lot of time trying to counter what they said were basically misleading allegations that Republicans put forward. So a lot of this is really not all that new, although it does go into greater detail. One important point that they highlight, which was also in the Republican memo but kind of tucked in at the end, is that information provided by the former British spy who compiled the dossier, the Trump-Russia dossier, that that was not the basis of the FBI's investigation into possible Trump-Russia ties. And the other thing is that the FBI managed to corroborate some of the information that was in that Trump-Russia dossier. Those are really the kind of two things that stood out most.

MCCAMMON: Thanks so much, Ryan. That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucus.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.