US House panel votes to release memo on Russia inquiry


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Reuters

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Top Democrat Adam Schiff called the decision “regrettable”

A House committee has voted to release a memo that Republicans say shows abuse of surveillance by the FBI and justice department in the Russia investigation.

Top Democrat Adam Schiff said the Republican-led panel voted to make the memo public but against releasing a Democratic counter memorandum.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has said it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the document.

The committee used an obscure rule to make the classified memo public.

President Donald Trump now has five days to object to the four-page memo’s public release. He has previously indicated he supports the classified document’s release.

The House Intelligence committee vote comes amid increasing rancour in Congress over the investigations of the intelligence community’s finding that Russia had sought to interfere in the 2016 election to help President Donald Trump win.

Democrats contend the document omits key details and seeks to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

The memo, which was written by the committee’s Republican chairman Devin Nunes, reportedly asserts that the decision to begin surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was based on an unverified dossier compiled on Mr Trump that was partially funded by his rival Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Members of the intelligence community have disputed this claim and insist that Mr Page was on the counter-intelligence radar long before the dossier, which was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele.

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EPA

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Republican Devin Nunes’ staff wrote the secretive memo

“This is an effort to circle the wagons around the White House and distract from the Russia probe,” Mr Schiff said after Monday’s vote.

“I think we have crossed a deeply regrettable line,” he said, adding that the classified document’s release could compromise national security.

‘Damaging impact’

Mr Schiff said that Republicans on the committee had opened an investigation into the FBI and DoJ.

Republican members disputed his claim, saying the inquiry was part of the panel’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr Schiff added that Republicans had voted to make a Democratic memo available to House members, but not to the public.

Texas Republican Mike Conaway, who is leading the lower chamber’s Russia investigation, said he was open to making it public after House members were able to review it.

The DoJ has also raised concern about releasing the memo.

In a letter to Mr Nunes last week, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd emphasised “the damaging impact that the release of classified material could have on our national security and our ability to share and receive sensitive information from friendly foreign governments”.

The vote came on the same day that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down amid repeated criticism from Mr Trump.

He was reportedly under pressure from Director Christopher Wray to resign ahead of an inspector general report examining the agency.

Meanwhile the Trump administration declined to impose fresh sanctions against Russia designed to punish Moscow for US election meddling and to prevent it from further interference.

Congress last year passed a bipartisan bill allowing the administration to impose sanctions, but the state department said on Monday the threat was “serving as a deterrent”.



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