While congressional Republicans were split over the decision to release the GOP memo on FBI surveillance Friday, Democrats lambasted what they view as a partisan effort to undermine the Justice Department and its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Top Democrats warned President Trump of a “constitutional crisis” if top Justice and FBI officials, who had expressed “grave concerns” about the release, were fired in what they would consider a “Saturday night massacre” echoing the Nixon era.
“We are alarmed by reports that you may intend to use this misleading document as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in an effort to corruptly influence or impede Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation,” said the letter from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and other leaders.
Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to seek a Monday vote by the panel to release the Democrats’ report, to counter what the minority views as an inaccurate and one-sided memo prepared by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare).
Republicans have splintered over the release, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) reiterated that he supported the release of both memos.
Ryan, however, also sought to caution those in his ranks from using the findings to attack the FBI and Department of Justice.
“It is critical that we focus on specific actions and specific actors and not use this memo to impugn the integrity of the justice system and FBI, which continue to serve the American people with honor,” Ryan said in a statement.
Democrats criticized Republicans for standing by in what they view as Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russia investigation, but Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) have panned legislative efforts to protect Mueller from being ousted by Trump.
“My understanding is, there's no effort underway to undermine or to remove the special counsel,” McConnell said earlier this week. “Therefore, I don't see any need to bring up legislation to protect someone who appears to need no protection.”
The push to release the memo, fueled in part by a social media campaign lawmakers acknowledge was likely influenced by Republican operatives, came largely from House Republicans amid dissent from some GOP senators.
In the Senate, the Intelligence Committee is trying to work in a bipartisan way to investigate Russian influence in U.S. elections, and senators have worried that the partisan nature of the memo could impede the probe.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate panel, said the memo’s release was “reckless and demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth.”
"This unprecedented public disclosure of classified material during an ongoing criminal investigation is dangerous to our national security,” Warner said. “This will make it far more difficult for the Intelligence Committees to conduct meaningful, bipartisan oversight of intelligence activities in the future.”
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), did not immediately comment.
Republican Sen. John McCain, who is fighting brain cancer at home in Arizona, admonished leaders, including Trump, to stop engaging in "partisan sideshows" and get to the bottom of Russian election interference.
"The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s," McCain said in a statement, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin. "The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”
Pelosi said Trump, in approving the memo’s release, just “surrendered his constitutional responsibility” and served Putin a “bouquet.”
“One year ago, the intelligence community concluded that the Russians interfered in our elections and plan to do so again,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Yet the president refuses to hold Putin accountable, making us all ask: What do the Russians have on Trump, politically, financially and personally?”