Trump approves release of secret memo in fight over Russia probe

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday approved the release of a classified Republican memo that alleges bias against him at the FBI and Justice Department, in an extraordinary showdown with senior law enforcement officials over the probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Ignoring the urgings of the FBI earlier this week, Trump declassified the memo and sent it to Congress. The Republican president told reporters that the contents of the document tell a disgraceful story and that “a lot of people should be ashamed.”

The four-page memo was released shortly afterward by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee that had drafted it.

The document has become a flashpoint in a battle between Republicans and Democrats over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election, and any actions to impede the investigation.

Trump has repeatedly complained about Mueller’s probe, which has cast a shadow over his first year in office.

The memo was commissioned by the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, Devin Nunes. It purports to show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department misled a U.S. court in seeking to extend electronic surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Two days ago, in a rare public rebuke of the president and Republicans in Congress who were pushing to release the classified memo, the FBI said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact” in the document and it should not be made public.

Democrats have depicted the memo, which was crafted by Republican members of the intelligence panel, as misleading, based on a selective use of highly classified data and intended to discredit Mueller’s work.

Russia has denied meddling in the election campaign. Trump, calling Mueller’s probe a political witch hunt, has denied collusion or obstruction of justice.

TRUMP ATTACKS JUSTICE OFFICIALS

Earlier on Friday, Trump accused the country’s top law enforcement officers – some of whom he appointed himself – of politicizing investigations in favor of Democrats and against his fellow Republicans.

“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The president praised “rank and file” FBI employees.

His latest salvo was sure to worsen the president’s frayed relations with agencies that are supposed to be politically independent.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, said Trump’s attack on the FBI and Justice Department was the “pot calling the kettle black.”

Republican efforts to release selective portions of classified information in the memo was a “blatant” political act, Clapper told CNN.

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Seeking to defuse the conflict, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan backed the release of a Democratic counterpoint memo if the Republican document were made public. Ryan can block either but has supported releasing the Republican memo.

Democrats say their counter-memo restores context and information left out of the Republican version. Republicans have resisted releasing that document,

Ryan’s office said on Friday he backed making the Democrats’ rebuttal public if it does not reveal intelligence gathering sources or methods.

Reporting by Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and David Alexander; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry