The clearest sign that the House Republican memo criticizing the FBI’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide won’t be a blow to special prosecutor Robert Mueller is the reaction of Republicans in the Senate.
While President Trump claimed that the memo “totally vindicates” him, no Republican senator has since come forward and joined him in that view. Instead, senators made clear in interviews Monday that they’re focused on the Senate investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which the president reportedly tried to end last year, or otherwise dismissed the value of the memo as a Mueller-killer.
When asked why his committee didn’t release a similar memo, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said, “I don’t think there was any need for a memo to be released.”
Other Republican senators were more critical.
“I didn’t think it was a good move,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, who is leaving at the end of his term this year. Flake added that “it’s not good” to sow “any kind of distrust of our institutions like that for no good reason.”
In a statement, Sen. John McCain, who is battling brain cancer, called for the Mueller investigation to proceed “unimpeded.”
“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests—no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s,” McCain said. “Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows.”
Even Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, who is particularly susceptible to theories alleging wrongful bias at the FBI and recently claimed that there was “potentially corruption at the highest levels” there, didn’t agree with the president that the memo cleared him of wrongdoing.
“I would need more information,” said Johnson, who noted that he’s not on the Intelligence Committee.
The nearly four-page memo released by Rep. Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence chairman, focused on how the FBI obtained a warrant to wiretap former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in 2016 through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The memo says that the warrant application cited the so-called Trump dossier created by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele but didn’t disclose that it was financed as opposition research paid for by Democrats.
That memo, released by the House on Friday over the objections of the FBI, was roundly criticized by former law and intelligence officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sen. Patrick Leahy spoke for all Democrats in Congress when he said the memo was “another desperate, hyper-partisan attempt to smear key Justice Department officials and undermine the Russia investigation.”
Even though the FBI said that the memo was misleading and there was other evidence outstanding, some House Republicans used the memo to allege that the entire investigation was tainted. One, Rep. Steve King, claimed the resulting scandal would be “worse than Watergate.”
After the State of the Union last week, Rep. Jeff Duncan caught Trump walking down the aisle of the House of Representatives, and asked him to release the memo. "Oh, yeah. Don't worry, 100 percent," replied Trump. A few days later, the White House declassified and allowed it to go out unredacted. Duncan then tweeted, “Finally, there needs to be a discussion as to whether the Mueller investigation is truly needed, seeing that the main premise that launched the investigation turned out to not be credible and was both directed and funded by political opponents.”
Still, not all House Republicans felt that way. In fact, Rep. Trey Gowdy, who was involved in the drafting of the document, pushed back on the most fiery claims by his colleagues.
On Face the Nation Sunday, Gowdy noted that the Trump campaign had met with Russians at Trump Tower; that George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide, had said the Russians had embarrassing information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; and that the memo didn’t “have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”
“There is a Russia investigation without a dossier,” he said.