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Committee Votes to Release Democratic Rebuttal to G.O.P. Russia Memo

(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)    —-   WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to make public a classified Democratic memorandum rebutting Republican claims that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department had abused their powers to wiretap a former Trump campaign official, setting up a possible clash with President Trump.

The vote gives Mr. Trump five days to review the Democratic memo and determine whether he will try to block its release. A decision to stop it could lead to an ugly standoff between the president, his top law enforcement and intelligence advisers and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Trump vocally supported the release of the Republicans’ memo last week, declassifying its contents on Friday over the objections of Democrats and his own F.B.I., which issued a rare public statement to warn that it had “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy. On Saturday, he claimed, incorrectly, on Saturday that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the continuing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

The 10-page Democratic document is certain to be less flattering to his case. Democrats have said the memo corrects mischaracterizations by the Republicans and adds crucial context to actions by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department in obtaining a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order to wiretap the former Trump aide, Carter Page, in October 2016.

If Mr. Trump tries to block the Democratic memo’s release, House rules allow Democrats to seek a closed-door vote of the full House of Representatives to override the president. With some Republicans now arguing for its release, the House could override the president’s decision in a rare rebuke to his authority.

A White House official said on Monday that it was prepared to review the memo.

“We will consider it along the same terms that we considered the Nunes memo — which is to allow for a legal review — national security review — led by the White House Counsel’s Office,” a White House spokesman, Raj Shah, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

But the memo’s fate is uncertain. Mr. Trump signaled earlier on Monday that he had little good will toward the committee’s Democrats, launching a broadside at Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, its top Democrat. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Schiff on Twitter of illegally leaking confidential information from the committee, called the congressman “Little Adam Schiff” and ominously said that he “must be stopped.”

In a separate tweet later in the morning, Mr. Trump praised Representative Devin Nunes of California, who spearheaded the Republican memo as the committee chairman, calling him a “Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure.”

Automated Twitter accounts, called bots, then appeared to push the “Little Adam Schiff” hashtag on the social media platform.

Mr. Nunes’s three-and-a-half-page memo centered on the F.B.I.’s use of material from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, in the warrant application to spy on Mr. Page. Mr. Steele was researching possible connections between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates, but the memo said that the F.B.I. had not disclosed to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that he was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and lawyers for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Democrats have denounced the document as a tactic to undermine the investigation and to protect Mr. Trump, and they have said it is riddled with errors and omissions.

Specifically, the Democratic memo is said to contend that the F.B.I. was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than Republicans had claimed. People familiar with the Democratic document said that it reveals that while the F.B.I. did not name the Democratic National Committee or Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, the bureau disclosed to the court that the information it had received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated.

The document is also said to contest Republican claims that Andrew G. McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I. at the time, had testified before the Intelligence Committee late last year that the agency would not have sought a wiretap of Mr. Page without Mr. Steele’s dossier of information.

The F.B.I. suspected that Mr. Page, a former Moscow-based investment banker who was under investigation once before, was acting as a Russian agent.

The New York Times filed a motion on Monday asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal all materials related to the wiretap of Mr. Page, including the F.B.I.’s application for the warrant and other court documents. Since Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978, no such wiretapping application materials have been made public.

Monday’s vote was an about-face for the Intelligence Committee. Republicans on the committee voted against releasing the Democratic rebuttal last Monday during the same meeting they chose to initiate the release of their own. They argued then that the memo should first be shared with all members of the House — as the Republican memo had been — before being reconsidered for public release.

In initiating the release of the Democratic memo, the committee is relying on the same obscure House rule it invoked last week. The rule allows the Intelligence Committee to sidestep the usual back-and-forth between lawmakers and the executive branch over the government’s most closely held secrets if the committee deems release to be in the public interest.

Mr. Nunes, meanwhile, has continued to push forward in secret with what he referred to on Friday as “Phase Two” of the majority’s investigation. He has said he is focused on the Obama State Department and its role in the early stages of the Russia investigation, but offered few additional details.

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