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Republicans differ with Trump on whether memo undercuts Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Several Republican lawmakers disagreed on Sunday with President Donald Trump’s assertion that a memo released last week by the House Intelligence Committee vindicated him in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Tweeting from his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday, Trump called Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of election interference a “witch hunt” and a “disgrace” and said the memo “totally vindicates” him.

But several Republican lawmakers played down the memo’s significance for Mueller’s probe, including Representative Trey Gowdy, a member of the intelligence committee and one of the authors of the four-page memo.

Speaking on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Gowdy said he believed the Republican memo showed sloppiness by investigators in the handling of an application to the top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

But he said the Russia probe should continue regardless.

“I am on record as saying I support Bob Mueller 100 percent,” Gowdy said. “I say investigate everything Russia did, but admit that this was a really sloppy process that you engaged in to surveil a U.S. citizen.”

The Republican memo has fueled a battle between Trump and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which argued against the document’s release.

The memo accuses senior FBI and Justice Department officials of using unverified information from a politically biased source when they sought approval from the FISA court to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on Oct. 21, 2016.

Investigators had asked for permission to monitor Page as part of the wider probe into alleged Russian meddling in the election and potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Russia has denied meddling. Trump has insisted there was no collusion by his campaign.

Democrats accuse Trump and his Republican allies of trying to use the memo to undermine the Russia probe and possibly make the case for the firing of Mueller or Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at Justice who is overseeing Mueller.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he walks on South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., before his departure to the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center, February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas


The comments on Sunday from Republican lawmakers suggest Trump could face resistance if he sought to use the Republican memo as a basis to try to fire either Mueller or Rosenstein.

The Republican memo was commissioned by Republican Representative Devin Nunes, a staunch Trump ally who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The FBI had objected to the memo’s release, saying it had “grave concerns” that the document gave an inaccurate account of the application to carry out surveillance on Page.

Republican Representatives Will Hurd, Brad Wenstrup and Chris Stewart, all of whom sit on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed with Gowdy that the Republican memo should have no impact on Mueller’s investigation.

“Bob Mueller should be allowed to turn over every rock, pursue every lead, so that we can have trust in knowing what actually the Russians did or did not do,” Hurd said on ABC News’ “This Week.”

Stewart, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said the “memo has nothing to do with the special counsel … they are very separate and I hope the special counsel will complete his work and report to the American people.”

Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” if the Republican memo would provide justification for Trump to fire either Rosenstein or Mueller, Wenstrup said: “No, I don’t.”

On Monday, the House intelligence panel will consider whether to release a memo from Democratic lawmakers that is expected to outline what they see as flaws in the Republican memo.

Two sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Sunday that the intelligence committee would consider declassifying the Democratic memo on Monday and making it public. One said the meeting would take place at 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) and that there would be a vote.

A Democratic member of the intelligence committee, Representative Michael Quigley, said on Sunday he was concerned that Trump could censor the Democratic memo that must be sent to him for a five-day security review before it is released under the same rule by which the Republican document was made public.

“I think he would redact (the Democratic document) in a fit of hypocrisy,” Quigley said in a phone interview. “I have more concern about the president than I do about my committee. The president is seriously delusional.”

The White House declined to comment on Quigley’s remarks, but said earlier the president would be open to releasing the Democratic memo after it was subjected to a security review. “If voted out, we’ll consider it. Nothing more to add,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney