U.S. Rep. Denny Heck blasts GOP Russia-probe memo as ‘full of inaccuracies,’ warns of ‘constitutional crisis’
Warning of a looming “constitutional crisis,” Washington Congressman Denny Heck on Friday slammed the release of a partisan memo seeking to discredit the FBI investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Heck, a Democrat who represents the Olympia area’s 10th Congressional District, is the only representative from the Pacific Northwest to serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is at the center of the memo controversy.
Like other Democrats, Heck opposed release of the memo written by Republicans on the panel. The memo alleges the FBI improperly relied on Democratic opposition research, including a dossier developed by a British spy, to justify surveillance of a former Trump campaign operative.
The memo alleged “a troubling breakdown” of processes aimed to protect Americans from illegal surveillance. President Trump called its revelations “a disgrace.”
But in a phone interview Friday, Heck said the GOP memo is a dishonest effort to sabotage the ongoing Russia probe by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“It is a memo designed to achieve only one purpose, and that is to discredit the investigation. It cherry-picks its facts and it is full of inaccuracies and misleading statements,” said Heck, who has worked with Democrats on the intelligence panel to release a memo they say would disprove the GOP claims.
Because the Democratic response memo relies in part on classified materials, Heck said he could not specifically talk about some of the points the GOP memo gets wrong.
But, Heck said, one major flaw is the Republican implication that an FBI application for surveillance (known as a FISA warrant) of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page depended on the so-called Steele dossier, the document written by a former British spy containing a raft of unverified allegations.
“The essence of their argument is that the FISA application is fruit of the forbidden tree because it was partisan motivated. The opposite is true. Even without the dossier this application would have been made,” Heck said, pointing to public statements that a counterintelligence investigation had launched before the FBI obtained the dossier.
Heck waved off a question on whether the Steele dossier material may have been improperly used, saying Republicans were trying “to drag you and the reader into the weeds because they know it serves their purpose.”
He criticized Trump and Republicans in Congress for releasing the memo over the strong objections of the FBI and U.S. Justice Department.
“We are inching toward a constitutional crisis,” Heck said. “The jig is up. The Republican majority has now definitively proven they were not interested in getting at the proof of Russian interference in the election… I think it’s a sad day for America.”
Heck added he wasn’t sure Republicans on the Intelligence Committee would allow the release of the Democratic memo, “so partisan are their motivations.”
Other congressional Democrats from Washington state joined Heck in attacking the GOP memo, with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray joining a letter by top Senate Democrats warning Trump against using the document “as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in an effort to corruptly influence or impede” the Russia investigation.
“We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action… could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre,” the letter said, referring to President Richard Nixon’s 1973 order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which led to the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus amid the Watergate scandal.
Washington’s congressional Republicans who supported the memo release said they take the issue of possible surveillance abuse seriously.
“When I read the memo, I was alarmed by methods and information used to conduct surveillance of an American citizen,” Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, said in a statement. “I support President Trump’s decision to make the memo available to the public so that the American people can read this information themselves. Americans must be able to trust that the FISA process is above reproach.”
Newhouse said the memo release “is not about the Special Counsel’s investigation” but about ensuring that the FBI and Justice Department “are acting at all times with the highest level of discretion when vetting information used to conduct domestic surveillance.”
In an interview last week, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, said he had not yet read the memo, but was “disappointed in the FBI to a certain degree” based on what he’d heard about allegations of bias in the agency. His office did not respond to a request for comment as of Friday afternoon.