President Trump, claiming vindication, made plain on Saturday that he would use a Republican memo as a political cudgel against the Russia investigation, though legal experts disputed his take and some Republicans urged an end to party attacks on the special counsel’s inquiry.
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” the president tweeted as he was driven to his Palm Beach, Fla., golf course, speaking of himself in the third person.
He called the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, his campaign’s potential role and whether his own actions may have obstructed justice a “Russian Witch Hunt.” In the evening from his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump wrote three additional tweets, including two quoting from a supportive Wall Street Journal editorial.
The disputed four-page memo, which was written by House Republicans and released Friday after Trump ordered it declassified, focuses on the FBI’s secret surveillance of a relatively obscure Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, shortly after he’d left his position as a foreign policy advisor amid questions about his Russian contacts.
Trump and House Republicans say the memo reveals abusive tactics by the FBI, for using Democratic-funded opposition research as part of its application for a surveillance warrant in October 2016 without disclosing that political link to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Democrats and newspaper reports dispute that, saying the judge was told of a political link. In any case, the warrant was renewed three times, suggesting the court saw merit in the eavesdropping on Page, who has been investigated as a suspected Russian agent as far back as 2013.
The president cleared the way for the memo’s declassification and release over the FBI’s “grave concerns” about its accuracy and omissions. Democrats have written their own still-classified memo as a rebuttal, but it remains under wraps, blocked by House Republicans.
The furor over the memo has spawned speculation that Trump would use it to justify firing officials at the center of the investigation, notably Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee and one of the officials who approved the application to surveil Page.
Asked Friday whether he has confidence in Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump demurred. “You figure that one out,” he said.
Legal experts said the memo did little to undercut the Mueller investigation.
"Even on the best possible reading of the memo, I don’t see how you get to the end game of discrediting the warrant and everything that follows,” said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor.
Trump’s gleeful tweets seemed to contradict House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who supported the memo’s release but insisted to reporters that the memo wasn’t intended to undermine Mueller’s investigation.
"This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller's investigation, and his investigation should be allowed to take its course,” Ryan said.
Trump obviously viewed it differently. His morning tweet, besides claiming vindication, said, “Their (sic) was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!”