President Donald Trump’s pending release of a controversial congressional memo alleging surveillance abuses is a defensive, dangerous action likely to disparage the credibility of the federal government, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind told the Leader-Telegram Thursday.
The memo, prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee, attacks the fairness of the FBI and the Justice Department as the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller continues into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The document was written as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department early in the Russia investigation, before Mueller was appointed to take it over.
The memo, which Trump’s own Justice Department has strongly objected to being released, suggests that the probe was tainted by political bias.
“To cast this aspersion over the entire FBI ... is extremely harmful,” said Kind, a La Crosse Democrat. “To undermine the credibility of the FBI and the Department of Justice in this way is a very serious act. This is very dangerous terrain.”
Many congressional Republicans back the memo’s release, but others said they are concerned about putting it before the public without further review.
Brian Westrate of Fall Creek, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Party, said Democrats want to block the memo going to the public because it will show how the Obama administration used the nation’s top law enforcement agency for political purposes and to help ensure that Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton would become president.
“The Democrats don’t want this out there because they got caught with their hands squarely in the cookie jar,” Westrate said. “There was abuse of power here, if nothing else.”
The memo’s release would mark the latest action by the Trump administration to halt and discredit Mueller’s investigation and represents a dangerous, divisive approach, Kind said. Trump’s demand that federal employees, including those in the FBI, be loyal to him also is troubling, Kind said.
“I’m fearful that Trump is going down a very Nixonian path,” Kind said in reference to former GOP President Richard Nixon, who resigned from office in 1974, “and that frightens me.”
Westrate also referenced Nixon when asked about the memo’s release. He said he believes details said to be included in the memo will show the Democrats were involved in surveillance for political purposes, much like Nixon’s backers were when they electronically bugged Democratic headquarters in 1972 at the Watergate apartment complex in Washington.
“It sounds like at least as significant as Watergate from the perspective of one party trying to surveil another party or another candidate,” Westrate said. “It sounds like we had America’s top law enforcement entity participatory in political shenanigans ... No wonder the Democrats don’t want this (memo) released.”
Kind said he has read the four-page memo and called it “extremely one-sided.” The report leaves out much pertinent information, the congressman said, and includes information specifically chosen to make the FBI appear biased.
That methodology in compiling the memo makes Kind skeptical of it and of the Trump administration’s assertion that Russia played no role in the 2016 election, he said. The release of the memo appears to be “a campaign of deceit and disinformation,” Kind said.
“When the government has a good case against someone, often the strategy is to put the government on trial. That is clearly the intent of this,” he said.
Given that evidence hasn’t yet proven collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, Westrate said, he doesn’t believe it occurred.
“If there was proof of that, it would have surfaced by now,” Westrate said. “I am more interested in collusion on the part of the Democrats.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray opposes the memo’s release, telling media outlets he has “grave concerns” about key facts omitted and its accuracy. White House officials have said they don’t believe the memo compromises national security but agreed to redactions to protect sensitive law enforcement information.
Trump has said he believes the memo could help him convince the public that Mueller’s investigation is a witch hunt intended to oust him as president.
The House intelligence panel voted along party lines Monday to put the memo out, giving Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Trump also has the power to declassify the document himself and either release it or hand it to Congress to release.
A White House official on Thursday said Congress would probably be informed of the decision today, adding Trump was “OK” with its release. A second White House official said Trump was likely to declassify the congressional memo, but the precise method for making it public was still being figured out. The officials were not authorized to be quoted about private deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.