Republicans on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a controversial memorandum that accuses the FBI and the Justice Department of being biased against President Donald Trump just moments after he declassified it.
The four-page memorandum released on February 2 alleges that the FBI and the Justice Department inappropriately applied for permission to conduct surveillance of a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, who had extensive Russian contacts. .
The document says its findings "raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality" of the actions of the FBI and Justice Department (DOJ) and "represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes."
The White House released a statement saying the memo "raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI."
Shortly after the release of the memo, top Democrats in Congress warned that Trump could trigger a "constitutional crisis" if he uses the contents of the memo as a pretext to fire Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the alleged meddling of Moscow in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged collusion between associates of Trump and Russia.
The Democrats also said they would release their own memo next week.
The White House statement said the administration was ready to assist Congress in further releases by facilitating "oversight requests consistent with applicable standards, including the need to protect intelligence sources and methods."
"What's happening in our country is a disgrace," Trump said on February 2, announcing that he had declassified the memo.
"A lot of people should be ashamed," Trump added, in an apparent attack on senior FBI and DOJ officials.
After the memo's release, Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said he has "great confidence in the men and women" of the Justice Department.
White House sources said that, despite a warning from Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray, whose future is now uncertain, Trump authorized the memo's release "in full" with no redactions.
The memorandum was written by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Representative Devin Nunes, a close ally of Trump who has become a critic of the FBI and Justice Department as they have been investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The memo alleges that the FBI relied on a dossier paid for by Trump's political rivals -- the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign -- in applying for permission to monitor Page.
It also states that the author of the dossier, former British Intelligence agent Christopher Steele, told a Justice Department official that he was "desperate" to prevent Trump's election.
The document also claims FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who recently resigned, told the committee that the FBI would not have sought authorization to monitor Page without information from the dossier.
The FBI on January 31 took the unusual step of publicly opposing the release of the memo, saying it demonstrated "material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
Democrats say the memo is a selectively edited set of Republican talking points aimed at distracting attention from the committee's own investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Shortly after the release of the memo, the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement that they hope to release their own memo on February 5.
"This is designed to impugn the credibility of the FBI, to undermine the investigation, to give the president additional fodder to attack the investigation. And it's a tremendous disservice to the American people," Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the Committee, said on February 2.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and eight other key Democrats also issued a statement addressed to Trump after the release of the memo.
"We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation.
"Firing [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein, DOJ Leadership, or [special counsel] Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre," they said, referring to President Richard Nixon's orders to fire justice officials during the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said releasing the memo was "dangerous to our national security," while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat, Senator Ben Cardin, issued a statement saying that "the president, once again, chose politics over national security."
Earlier the same day, Trump posted on Twitter: "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!"
But a senior Republican lawmaker, Senator John McCain, also admonished Republicans for attacking the FBI and the Department of Justice amid the Russia probe, saying such attacks only help strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"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," McCain said in a statement.