Republicans on Capitol Hill and beyond struggled to come to a consensus on Friday following the release of a controversial House Intelligence memo, which they claimed showed corruption at the highest levels of the Justice Department.
While many argued that the details in the memo are explosive and troubling, others insisted that the contents are relatively harmless and do not undermine the ongoing Russia investigation.
The newly declassified memo highlights a surveillance warrant Justice Department officials requested for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016. The memo asserts that this warrant was based on information from a dossier compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, which was partially funded by the DNC during the 2016 election. Republicans have claimed the Justice Department failed to disclose the DNC’s involvement in the dossier when requesting the warrant for Page.
Some conservatives responded with predictable outrage about the memo’s contents.
“This is beyond shocking,” Federalist co-founder Sean Davis tweeted. “It is so much worse than what anyone who has followed this story expected.”
Congressional Republicans were similarly incensed, tweeting angrily throughout the afternoon.
Several high-profile conservatives, including Gateway Pundit correspondent Lucian Wintrich, suggested that the memo proved the basis for the Justice Department’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials was faulty.
However, many high-ranking Republicans seemed to disagree.
“While this memo raises serious concerns with the FISA process, I have been and remain confident in the overwhelming majority of the men and women serving at the FBI and DOJ,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, stated. “As I have said repeatedly, I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not – in any way – discredit his investigation.”
New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur (R) echoed Gowdy’s comments.
“Allegations in memo are serious, but must not be used to impugn the FBI or discredit the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” he tweeted. “Anytime we talk about abuse of govt, Americans need to know, but we must not allow this memo to become a distraction from work we need to do.”
The memo largely relies on incomplete facts, many of which were misconstrued or omitted entirely. As Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D) noted, “almost every House member who voted in favor of this memo’s release” had not read “the underlying documents on which it was based.”
“They simply do not support its conclusions,” he tweeted.
Additionally, as the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler pointed out, Page had already left the campaign by the time the Justice Department requested the warrant in October, something the memo authors failed to mention. As the Wall Street Journal confirmed this week, Page had also been on the FBI’s radar years prior to the election, due to his connections to Russian actors.
Outside of Capitol Hill, some prominent conservatives acknowledged that the memo hardly disproved the necessity of a special counsel investigation into Russian meddling, despite its claims of partisan bias.
“There’s disturbing evidence of law enforcement bias & sloppiness. But hard to see how this derails Mueller investigation, particularly as it confirms that FBI investigation began w/Papadapolous before FISA application targeting Page,” tweeted Stephen Hayes, editor-in-chief of the conservative Weekly Standard.
While Republicans have been quick to latch onto the idea that the memo is proof of abject corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and Justice Department, it actually appears to prove what many Democrats and some Republicans have said all along — that the Russia investigation did not stem from the Steele dossier.
“The authors of the GOP memo would like the country to believe that the investigation began with Christopher Steele and the dossier, and if they can just discredit Mr. Steele, they can make the whole investigation go away, regardless of the Russians’ interference in our election or the role of the Trump campaign in that interference,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said in a lengthy statement on Friday. “This ignores the convenient fact that the investigation did not begin with, or arise from Christopher Steele or the dossier.”
As many have pointed out, the memo instead clearly highlights the fact that DOJ officials kicked off their investigation based on information they uncovered on former Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian individuals in July last year.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired last spring by President Trump after reportedly refusing to drop the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn (Flynn also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December), weighed in on the memo controversy this week, tweeting an unimpressed, “That’s it?”
“Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what?” he wrote. “DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”