WASHINGTON — The Justice Department warned the House Intelligence Committee chairman on Wednesday that it was “extraordinarily reckless” for Republicans to push to release a committee memo that draws on classified information to portray the origins of the Russian investigation as scandalous.
In a letter to Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the committee, Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, stressed that the committee had refused to show the memo to the F.B.I.
“We do not understand why the committee would possibly seek to disclose classified and law enforcement sensitive information without first consulting with the relevant members of the intelligence community,” Mr. Boyd wrote.
The rebuke came as Democrats announced that they had drafted their own classified memo based on the same underlying materials to rebut Mr. Nunes. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, called the Republicans’ document extraordinarily misleading.
The moves to curb Mr. Nunes by the Democrats as well as by Mr. Boyd, a Trump administration appointee, came during sharply escalating partisan conflict over the Russia investigation. Republicans and conservative commentators have increasingly argued that the investigation derives from a conspiracy by biased law enforcement officials seeking to sabotage President Trump. Democrats, in turn, have accused Republicans of constructing a false narrative in an attempt to undermine the inquiry on behalf of Mr. Trump.
Adding to the rising turbulence, Republicans are also pointing with alarm to newly revealed texts between two F.B.I. officials who were once part of Mr. Mueller’s team, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Mr. Mueller removed Mr. Strzok from his team over the summer after learning that the two had exchanged texts expressing a dislike of Mr. Trump.
The Republican memo, which was written by Mr. Nunes’s staff, is said to claim that the F.B.I. abused its powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to spy on the Trump campaign. Democrats did not know it existed until a committee meeting last week, during which its members voted along party lines to share it with the rest of the House.
Republicans, conservative commentators and social media accounts linked to Russian influence networks immediately began calling for the memo’s public release, portraying it as revealing a major scandal. Committee Republicans are reportedly weighing whether to invoke an obscure House rule to make public classified materials.
People familiar with the memo said it centers on a fall 2016 application for a FISA warrant targeting Carter Page, a onetime member of the Trump presidential campaign who had recently visited Russia. The memo is said to stress that the application used information from a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, without adequately explaining to the judge that his research was financed by Democrats.
But people familiar with the underlying application have portrayed the Republican memo as misleading in part because Mr. Steele’s information, which was also compiled into a notorious dossier, was insufficient to meet the standard for a FISA warrant. The application, they said, drew on other intelligence that the Republican memo misleadingly omits — but revealing that other information to rebut the memo would risk blowing other sources and methods of intelligence-gathering about Russia.
The Justice Department is “unaware of any wrongdoing relating to the FISA process,” Mr. Boyd wrote. He also revealed that Mr. Nunes has not personally examined the underlying materials on which his memo is based, but rather had delegated that task to Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina. Mr. Boyd also wrote that the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, had personally asked to let the bureau see a copy of the memo, but had been rebuffed.
A spokesman for Mr. Nunes, Jack Langer, said: “Agencies that are under investigation by congressional committees don’t typically get access to the committees’ investigative documents about them, and it’s no surprise these agencies don’t want the abuses we’ve found to be made public. Furthermore, there were no limitations placed on disseminating this information, and we will continue to fulfill our oversight responsibilities in accordance with House rules.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Schiff refused to discuss the details of the dispute, but said the Republican memo “is misleading in what it says, and it’s misleading in what it omits.”
Mr. Schiff portrayed the report as part of a campaign dating to Mr. Nunes’s announcement in the spring that he intended to tell the White House that the Obama administration had improperly “unmasked” the identities of Mr. Trump’s associates in intelligence reports. It later emerged that Mr. Nunes had learned that from Mr. Trump’s aides at the White House, and other Republicans concluded that there had been no improper unmasking.
Mr. Schiff said that Democrats would ask the committee on Monday to make their rival memo available to the House on the same terms as the Republican memo, and that if the president declassified the Republican document, he should do the same for the Democratic version. But Mr. Schiff said that he thought the better course was for both memos to remain classified.
The texts between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page provided more fuel for the partisan rancor.
Republican lawmakers have said texts that the Justice Department gave to Congress last week, supplementing another set that lawmakers received last year, show pervasive political bias against Mr. Trump. Republicans also portrayed phrases in the texts, including a reference to a “secret society” in the F.B.I., as hints of a conspiracy to sabotage him.
“The texts between Strzok and Page referenced a ‘secret society,’” Representative John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas, wrote on Twitter, adding: “It’s clear from the thousands of texts we reviewed that Strzok and Page held a manifest bias against @realDonaldTrump in favor of Hillary Clinton and showed an intent to act upon that bias.”
Other people familiar with the texts agreed that they showed the two officials expressing many negative opinions about Mr. Trump and his team — like declaring “what a disaster” after learning that Jeff Sessions would be the attorney general.
But one of those people, a Democratic congressional aide, maintained that Republicans’ insinuations that the texts also showed signs of a conspiracy was based on cherry-picking and portraying as sinister phrases that, in context, were instead tongue-in-cheek banter.
For example, the aide said the reference to a “secret society” the day after the election occurred in an exchange between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page in which one noted: “Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”
Another person familiar with that exchange said the team had bought Russia-theme calendars to give out to the agents and analysts investigating Russia’s interference in the election, and in light of the election results, Ms. Page was making a dark joke about the gag gifts.
The F.B.I. has also informed Congress that it discovered that the bureau did not preserve text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page between mid-December 2016 and mid-May 2017. It blamed misconfigured software that prevented the automatic retention of such data from many bureau officials who were using Samsung 5 phones provided by the F.B.I.
Mr. Trump suggested that the missing texts were worse than Watergate, the scandal that brought down Richard M. Nixon, comparing the months of missing messages to the 18.5 minutes of crucial White House tape that was mysteriously erased after the Watergate break-in.
“When you look at five months, this is the late, great Rose Mary Woods, right?” Mr. Trump told reporters, referring to Nixon’s secretary, who took the blame for inadvertently erasing part of a taped conversation between him and his chief of staff three days after the burglary at the Democratic Party headquarters.
“This is a large-scale version,” Mr. Trump said. “That was 18 minutes; this was five months.”
“They say it’s 50,000 texts, and it’s prime time,” he added, referring incorrectly to the number of texts between the two officials that the Justice Department inspector general has reviewed. The number of missing texts is not known. “That’s disturbing.”
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