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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Trump accuses justice officials of politicising Russia investigation

Accusation comes amid signs he will release classified memo that reportedly shows wrongdoing and bias in FBI investigation against his campaign

US President Donald Trump addresses the Republican National Committee's winter meeting at the Washington Hilton on February 1, 2018. Yuri Gripas / Reuters
US President Donald Trump addresses the Republican National Committee's winter meeting at the Washington Hilton on February 1, 2018. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

President Donald Trump, dogged by an unrelenting investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia, lashed out on Friday at the FBI and Department of Justice as politically biased and prepared to release a classified memo that Republicans say would reveal abusive FBI surveillance tactics.

His early morning tweet came as the morning news shows were dominated by reports that the FBI and the department had objected strenuously to the memo's release. Agency officials say the document is misleading and could jeopardise national security.

"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. Rank & File are great people!" Mr Trump tweeted.

White House officials say Mr Trump intends to clear the way for publication of a classified memo on the Russia investigation that was written by Republicans who accuse the FBI of abusive surveillance tactics in the early stages of its probe. That sets up a clash with the man he picked to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray, after firing James Comey as agency director.

A White House official said Congress would probably be informed of Mr Trump's decision on Friday, adding that the president was "okay" with its release. A second White House official said Trump was likely to declassify the congressional memo but the precise method for making it public was still being decided.

The House intelligence panel voted along party lines on Monday to put the memo out, giving Mr Trump five days to reject the release under committee rules. But Mr Trump also has the power to declassify the document himself and either release it or hand it to Congress to release.

One of the White House officials said the memo would be in "Congress' hands" after Mr Trump declassified it and that there were unlikely to be any redactions to the document.

Mr Trump has said he wants the memo released even after the FBI declared on Wednesday that it had "grave concerns" about its accuracy. The document was written as part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the justice department early in the Russia investigation, before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take it over.

Senior FBI officials have also made direct appeals to the White House, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.

Democrats call the memo an attempt by Republicans to distract attention from the investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Mr Trump to the White House. Democrats on the intelligence panel made a last-ditch effort to stop the release o Wednesday evening, saying the memo had been "secretly altered" by the Republicans who wrote it.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the vote on Monday.

"The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release," Mr Schiff said.

Mr Schiff asked Mr Nunes for another vote on the memo, but Republicans did not appear to waver. Mr Nunes' spokesman Jack Langer said the committee vote was "procedurally sound".

"To suggest otherwise is a bizarre distraction from the abuses detailed in the memo, which the public will hopefully soon be able to read for themselves," Mr Langer said.

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Read more:

Legal team for Manafort co-defendant Rick Gates quits

FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe steps down

Russia inquiry draws closer to the White House

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This all comes as special counsel Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia and whether Mr Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Mr Comey. Republicans have intensified their pressure on the justice department as Mr Mueller's probe has moved closer to Trump's inner circle.

Mr Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the document will validate his concerns that the FBI and justice department conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations.

The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his claim that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are pressing House Speaker Paul Ryan to stop the release.

Mr Ryan charged that the Democrats were just out for political gain, saying the purpose of the memo was to reveal whether there had been abuses of surveillance laws.

"This memo is not an indictment of the FBI or the Department of Justice, it does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general," he said, referring to Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr Mueller in May.

But Mr Schiff said the opposite Thursday, asserting that Mr Trump was looking for a reason to fire Mr Mueller and Mr Rosenstein. He said he was more worried about Mr Rosenstein because he decides the scope of Mr Mueller's investigation.

"The White House knows it would face a firestorm if it fired Bob Mueller," Mr Schiff said. "What's more effective is to fire Bob Mueller's boss."

Mr Comey weighed in on Twitter as well: "All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy."