Politics & Government

Republicans press investigation of FBI while Democrats question GOP motives

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a key member of the group, walk through Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a key member of the group, walk through Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. AP

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election moves closer to the president, one of his staunchest allies, Rep. Mark Meadows, wants another investigation — into the FBI.

His request was the latest offensive in a continuing campaign by conservative Republicans to shift attention away from the Trump probe, charge highly suspicious Democrats.

Russian bots have seized on the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag prompted by conservative requests to release a GOP-created intelligence document, according to the Alliance For Securing Democracy, a website which tracks Russian influence operations on Twitter. It’s the top hashtag being pushed by Russia-linked networks, according to the site and Democrats have asked that Twitter and Facebook investigate the bots.

“If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to the companies.

On Wednesday, Schiff sought to push back against Meadows’ call to release the memo, created by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Democrats on the committee would draft their own memo, Schiff said, “setting out the relevant facts and exposing the misleading character of the Republicans’ document.”

In recent days, Republicans have used the memo and a series of text messages involving an FBI agent who was removed from Mueller's team following the discovery of disparaging comments he made about Trump to question the FBI’s impartiality. The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, on Wednesday filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Justice Department, seeking text messages and other records.

The White House is in favor of releasing the memo. “We certainly support full transparency,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he believes the Republican complaints are efforts to divert attention from Mueller’s probe — “or even stand in his way.”

“We’re all worried about it,” Schumer said. “Mueller has to be allowed to do his job. He shouldn’t be thwarted in any way and the diversion that they're trying to do, both with Mueller and with others, is not good for the country.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has not seen the memo but called it “one more product of the House majority, which if it continues in the pattern will be probably full of innuendo, false claims and not a lot of factual basis.

“What we have seen is this continuing pattern of full-fronted assaults against the integrity of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Warner said. “Those actions, even for some of that crowd in the House, bring new levels of recklessness.”

The new Meadows effort comes as the special counsel’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election has been heating up with interviews conducted with members of Trump’s inner circle.

The memo was produced soon after Mueller subpoenaed former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and as reports emerged that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interviewed.

Meadows, a Republican who represents western North Carolina, has clout with conservatives — he’s chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump . He’s attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, along with Trump.

Meadows reportedly discussed the memo with Trump.

The congressman is also calling for an investigation into the FBI and its own 2016 investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her use of a private email server.

The Justice Department's Inspector General is already reviewing how the FBI handled that probe; that review is expected to wrap up in the coming months.

Meadows said what he read in the memo is “absolutely shocking,” but Republicans largely refuse to discuss its contents, which remain classified. They have suggested, however, that its contents put investigators in a bad light.

Meadows said last week on the House floor that it shows what he “would think would never happen in a country that loves freedom and democracy like this country.”

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said the memo outlines potential abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Meadows said on the House floor that it involves the “infamous dossier” — a compilation of reports on Trump that was created by former British spy Christopher Steele and later shared with the FBI.

It became part of the impetus for congressional and Justice Department probes into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Others have said it calls into question how the Trump collusion investigation began.

“This entire investigation is built on a sham. And that becomes evident in the contents of the memo,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., have not been allowed to see the memo, according to a source close to the committee.

In addition to the memo, Meadows and fellow Republicans have called for a closer look at the FBI’s actions during the 2016 election, accusing the organization of “putting their thumb on the scale to undermine Donald Trump.”

FBI official Peter Strzok’s text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page – the two reportedly were having an affair – are at the heart of the claims. Meadows and others say the text messages indicate FBI agents worked to help Clinton and harm Trump. Some of the text messages between the two – described as “lovers” in a recent tweet by Trump – have gone missing, the Justice Department announced last week, further fueling speculation.

Strzok was a member of Mueller’s team, but was removed when Mueller became aware of the text messages.

Others have accused House Republicans of mischaracterizing what the texts say and selectively choosing which texts to make public. The texts also include criticism of former Attorney General Eric Holder, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea.

Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC