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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

House Committee defies Trump and votes to release second memo

US president now has five days to respond by either declassifying the latest memo or blocking it

US President Donald Trump accused Democratic congressman Adam Schiff a liar and a 'leaker' in tweets on February 5, 2018. Nicholas Kamm / AFP
US President Donald Trump accused Democratic congressman Adam Schiff a liar and a 'leaker' in tweets on February 5, 2018. Nicholas Kamm / AFP

The House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday in favor of releasing a Democratic memo rebutting the Republican one released on Friday, that accused the FBI of abusing surveillance measures in targeting the Trump campaign. The US president now has five days to respond by either declassifying the latest memo or blocking it.

Donald Trump on Monday launched an attack on the senior Democratic member of the US House Intelligence Committee, ahead of a vote by the panel on whether to release the Democrats' response to a Republican memo questioning the legality of FBI surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser.

“Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper!” the US president tweeted at 7.39am.

James Comey is the former director of the FBI whom Mr Trump fired last year, while Senator Mark Warner is the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Brennan is the former director of the CIA and James Clapper was national intelligence chief under former president Barack Obama .

All four men have criticised Mr Trump and pushed for legislation that would prevent the White House from firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign.

“Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!," Mr Trump tweeted.

Soon after, Mr Schiff responded by poking fun at Mr Trump’s routine of watching TV and firing off tweets.

“Mr President, I see you’ve had a busy morning of 'Executive Time'. Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or ... really anything else,” he wrote.

Mr Schiff and the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate are insisting on releasing their memo, in a similar process that made public a Republican version on Friday.

That memo, drafted by the House Intelligence Committee chairman David Nunes, attempted to show FBI bias against Mr Trump in its Russia investigation by questioning the evidence it presented to obtain surveillance warrants for campaign aide Carter Page.

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The committee was expected to vote late on Monday on whether to declassify the text, a first step before Mr Trump either permits or blocks its release.

But it appears unlikely that the Republicans or Mr Trump will allow the release of the Democratic memo.

“After weeks of crying ‘Release the Memo’, Republicans and Mr Trump look likely to prevent the release of Democratic rebuttal drafted by Adam Schiff, who has also seen the underlying intelligence," said Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress.

The double standard in the administration’s response to the memo, praising Mr Nunes as a “great American hero” while characterising Mr Schiff as a “liar”, fits the Donald Trump narrative, Mr Gude told The National.

“Mr Trump is growing increasingly desperate, and his attacks on Adam Schiff fit the pattern of him attacking anyone or any institution that is investigating him.”

This could backfire on Republicans in Congress, as the release of the first memo failed to directly target the Mueller investigation. Even “Republicans who helped draft the [Nunes] memo, such as Congressman Trey Gowdy, gave a spirited defence of the Mueller probe Sunday and said nothing in the memo undermines the investigation,” he said.

Where the memo wars and Mr Trump’s recurring attacks on the FBI appear to have worked is in tainting the bureau’s reputation within the Republican party. A poll by Survey Monkey released over the weekend showed that 47 per cent of Republicans now hold a negative view of the FBI.

In the long term, Mr Gude feared the attacks “are doing a lasting damage to the Congress and US intelligence and law enforcement agencies”.

“The only ones cheering this on are [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and other American adversaries,” he said.

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