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Russia memo debate engrosses lawmakers days after its release

Democrats and Republicans bickered Sunday about the controversial memo alleging misconduct at the FBI, after its public release last week failed to quell the debate over the once-classified document.

President Donald Trump says the document, which alleges that FBI officials misled a judge in an attempt to get permission to conduct surveillance of one of his campaign aides, “totally vindicates” him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether any Trump associates helped with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

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But Democrats say the release of the memo — which does not address Trump’s actions and was spearheaded by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — represents an attack on law enforcement in an attempt to protect the president.

“The goal here really isn’t to find out the answers from the FBI,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “The goal here is to undermine the FBI, discredit the FBI, discredit the Mueller investigation, do the president’s bidding.”

“I think it’s very possible his staff worked with the White House and coordinated the whole effort with the White House,” Schiff said of Nunes.

Republicans, meanwhile, sought Sunday to tamp down concerns that Trump might use the memo to fire people close to the Russia investigation.

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Trump was “not at all” preparing to fire Mueller. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a member of the intelligence panel, which voted to release the document, said he saw no reason to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The memo says Rosenstein signed off on an FBI request to renew a warrant to conduct surveillance of the ex-Trump aide, Carter Page.

The fight amps up the partisan tension at a tricky time for lawmakers. They have until Thursday to avert another federal government shutdown, and House leaders could struggle to find the votes. Meanwhile, talks about a deal to extend protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children appear to have stalled.

Still, some Republicans saw the memo’s release as an opportunity for a victory lap. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, said Saturday on Fox News that the memo undermines the foundation of Mueller’s probe and called for the investigation’s end.

“There is a little bit of sweet revenge in it for me and, certainly, probably the family, in a sense that if they wouldn’t have done this, this stuff would be going on,” he said.

Others said the memo left them with concerns about how the FBI was using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires it to seek a court warrant to conduct surveillance of Americans. Republicans say the FBI did not tell the court that a chunk of its evidence against Page had come from a former British spy who worked with a firm paid by Democrats.

A computer showing the Nunes memo is pictured. | Getty Images

“For me, this is about making sure that we’re protecting the civil liberties of Americans,” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Should unverified information be able to be used to spy on an American?”

Democratic lawmakers say Republicans’ claims are not accurate, and they want to release their own memo in response, though it’s currently classified and would have to be approved for release by the House intelligence panel.

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