Republicans accused the FBI of anti-Trump bias and abusing its power to wiretap American citizens in an explosive four-page memo published on Friday.
The memo, which was written by Republican aides, claimed that the FBI, in seeking court approval to extend surveillance of former Trump associate Carter Page, failed to disclose that the information used to justify the surveillance was based on research provided by former MI5 agent Christopher Steele – research that was originally financed by Democrats.
The memo claimed that this failure raised concerns about the “legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court”. Further, it represented a “troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process”, a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 which obliges the government to secure permission from a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to wiretap an individual.
But Democrats renounced the contents of the memo, accusing Republicans of misrepresenting the intelligence information that was provided to the House Intelligence Committee.
The release of the memo on Friday occurred after President Trump agreed to declassify the information.
Confirming that the document has been declassified he said it was a “disgrace what’s going on in this country”, adding: “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.”
In a statement signed by White House Counsel Donald McGahn and attached to the memo, the administration's top lawyer notes that, while disclosing information of this sort is "extremely rare", declassification is permitted "when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any need to protect the information".
The bulk of the memo focuses on the work of Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who was hired by Fusion GPS to undertake research on then candidate Trump. It claims that Mr Steele, who was also an FBI source, told then deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was "desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not becoming president". This proved the "clear bias" of Mr Steele, but was not mentioned in the FBI's FISA application, the memo states.
But Democrats have stressed that the Steele information would have been only one strand of information relied on by the FBI when it applied to the court for the warrant.
The memo also specifically names the FBI and Department of Justice officials who signed the original warrant, and three renewal warrants, for Mr Page's surveillance. They include then FBI director James Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe who resigned earlier this week, former acting attorney general Sally Yates who was fired by Mr Trump in January 2017 and the current deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
The memo also mentions texts sent between former FBI official Peter Strozk and Lisa Page, who were involved in an extra-marital affair, and which showed anti-Trump bias. Both have since been reassigned.
Following the publication of the memo, the FBI Agents Association issued a statement stating that agents would not be distracted by "partisan politics".
“The men and women of the FBI put their lives on the line every day in the fight against terrorists and criminals because of their dedication to our country and the constitution. The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency. FBI Special Agents have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission.”
Not all Republicans backed Mr Trump’s stance. In a statement, Republican senator John McCain said: “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.”