Republicans Say Russia Probe Will Continue, Despite Controversial Memo

Feb 4, 2018
Originally published on February 10, 2018 12:48 am

Updated on Feb. 5 at 5:15 p.m. ET

The recently-released Republican memo alleging abuses of covert surveillance powers by the Justice Department and FBI to investigate a former member of President Trump's campaign team will not have "any impact on the Russia probe," said Republican Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

Gowdy, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was speaking on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday. He also said that even if the controversial Steele dossier didn't exist, there would still be a Russia investigation.

Speaking to CBS's Margaret Brennan:

REP. GOWDY: I actually don't think it has any impact on the Russia probe for this reason —

MARGARET BRENNAN: The memo has no impact on the Russia probe?

REP. GOWDY: No-- not to me, it doesn't — and I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it. There is a Russia investigation without a dossier. So to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos' meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn't have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So there's going to be a Russia probe, even without a dossier.

Gowdy's appearance comes just days after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee made public a previously classified three and a half page document authored by the committee staff under the guidance of chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. President Trump declassified the memo and authorized its release on Friday.

The document alleges that the FBI and Justice Department relied on the unverified Russia dossier compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to obtain court approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy aide Carter Page.

Steele was commissioned by the political research firm Fusion GPS, which was hired by Trump's political opponents, including the conservative news site the Washington Free Beacon, the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign.

On Saturday the President tweeted that the release of the memo "totally vindicates" him and called the investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller looking into possible connections between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia "an American disgrace."

But the so-called Nunes memo says the Steele dossier did not launch the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia. The memo confirms previous reports that overtures by Russian operatives to a junior campaign adviser are what sparked the FBI's counterintelligence investigation.

George Papadopoulos — who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those contacts — "triggered" the opening of the investigation, the memo says.

Court documents have described offers that Papadopoulos received of "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and "off the record" meetings involving him and other campaign aides and Russian leaders.

Gowdy, who earlier in the week announced his retirement from Congress, did not agree with Trump that the memo absolved him of any alleged wrongdoing. But Gowdy did say the release of the memo has no connection to many of the investigative threads in the Russia probe.

Other Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee echoed Gowdy in Sunday show appearances.

"This memo has frankly nothing at all to do with a special counsel," said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, on Fox News Sunday.

"I don't believe this is an attack on Bob Mueller. I don't believe this is an attack on the men and women in the FBI. I've served shoulder to shoulder with them and they are hard-working folks that keep us safe," said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas on ABC's This Week.

Speaking Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, John Brennan the former CIA director under former President Barack Obama, accused Nunes of playing politics with the release of the memo.

"Devin Nunes, over the past several months, all the way back to the spring of last year I think has engaged in these tactics, purely to defend, makes excuses and try to protect Mr. Trump," Brennan said.

Brennan also downplayed the amount of influence the dossier had among those in intelligence circles.

"It did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessments that was done that was presented to then President Obama and then President-elect Trump."

Democrats have raised concerns that the President will use the release of the Nunes memo as grounds to terminate Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the Mueller investigation, or to order the firing Mueller.

Also appearing on Meet the Press was Trump's former chief of Staff Reince Priebus. He pushed back on an explosive report first made in the New York Times last month, that Trump ordered the firing Mueller in June of 2017, but backed down after the White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit over the directive.

"I never felt, of all the things that we went through in the West Wing, I never felt that the president was going to fire the special counsel," said Priebus, who left the administration in July 2017.

On Saturday evening, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. released a six-page rebuttal memo to the Nunes document and circulated it to his colleagues and to the media, including NPR. Nadler, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, accuses the Nunes memo of being "deliberately misleading and deeply wrong on the law."

Clarification: In an earlier version of this story, Rep. Trey Gowdy was incompletely quoted. We have updated with a fuller transcript of what he said.

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