Republicans are targeting former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan as they seek to bring more attention to what they say was an unfair investigation of President Trump launched in the Obama administration.
The Hill reports,
The effort to spotlight the intelligence officials comes as Democratic calls to impeach President Trump rise in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s first public remarks about his investigation.
The White House says the real controversy is the investigation of Trump that preceded Mueller’s probe, an argument Democrats contend is just a conspiracy theory peddled in order to distract from his presidential woes.
Trump and GOP lawmakers are seeking to pin blame on Comey and Brennan over the use of the so-called “Steele” dossier in the surveillance warrant application that ultimately allowed the FBI to wiretap a member of the Trump campaign in 2016.
The dossier, a shadowy document that makes a series of salacious allegations about Trump, has long been a flashpoint for Republicans.
Some Republicans allege that FBI investigators relied too heavily on it to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Some of the allegations in the dossier have been verified, while others were proven false or remain unsubstantiated.
Right-leaning news outlets claim that Brennan and Comey have offered conflicting messages as to who supported including details from the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele’s research in the FISA warrant application.
Trump on Thursday highlighted a Fox News segment on the matter, tweeting: “‘Comey and Brennan are turning on each other.’ @kilmeade”
Fox News, citing anonymous sources and non-public emails, reported in May that a Comey email claimed Brennan wanted to include the dossier in the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) analysis. The story was amped up by right-wing news sites as a feud between the two intelligence officials.
Democrats have claimed this is a standard page out of the GOP-playbook for such closed-off inquiries — leak allegations anonymously about classified or non-public documents or communications, and then push those talking points on television.
Officials have maintained that the dossier was not included in the analysis, which was released in 2017. The FBI, not the CIA, deals with counterintelligence investigations and thus the applications for FISA warrants.
Brennan has said that the FBI had a responsibility to see if they could verify some of the claims in the document.
“It did not play any role whatsoever in the Intelligence Community Assessment that was done that was presented to then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump,” Brennan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last year. “I do think it was up to the FBI to see if they could verify any of it.”
Comey — who oversaw the launch of the counterintelligence probe — has publicly stated that he felt the need to brief Trump, then-president-elect, on the dossier. Comey brought up the document during a one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower with the soon-to-be president in January 2017, after Brennan and other top intelligence officials briefed him on the ICA.
There is little evidence to suggest Comey and Brennan, both Trump critics, are at odds over the dossier.
Republicans who claim Comey and top brass at the FBI were biased against Trump have long called for a second special counsel to be tapped to investigate whether the FBI conducted proper surveillance.
Attorney General William Barr has tapped John Durham, a respected U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to review the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference.
The president has worked to clear any hurdles for Barr’s inquiry, ordering intelligence agencies in May to cooperate and giving the attorney general complete power to declassify information related to the investigation.
That fueled further criticism from Democrats, who blasted the president’s declassification order as a further sign Trump will pursue a political agenda at the expense of his own intelligence community.
“Selectively declassifying sources and methods in order to serve a political agenda will make it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs protecting this country from those who wish to do us harm,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said at the time.
Stories about Comey and Brennan have repeatedly surfaced on Fox News.
Former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former chairman Oversight and Government Reform turned Fox News contributor, advised GOP members that letters between Comey and Brennan are the key to unlocking who made the dossier decision.
“Whoever is investigating this, tell them to look for emails between Brennan and Comey in December of 2016,” Gowdy said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity in mid-May.