The FBI's probe into Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election expanded to include potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives after former campaign aide George Papadopoulos revealed troubling information to an Australian diplomat, more than two months before investigators got their hands on the controversial Steele dossier, according to a redacted memo authored by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee and released Saturday.
The memo, a rebuttal to a Republican missive released two weeks before, stressed that the agency did not mislead the FISA court when seeking a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as GOP members of the committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., previously had claimed.
The Nunes memo, which detractors pegged as a set of talking points meant to discredit the investigation into Russian interference, now under the wing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, also included an admission that Papadopoulos's drunken rambling to Australian Alexander Downer that Russia had damaging information on Trump opponent Hillary Clinton, sparked the probe into the campaign's potential collusion with Russian operatives. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller.
Some GOP lawmakers and Nunes, who has led a charge to defend the president, have claimed that investigators weren't forthcoming with the FISA court when they sought a warrant on Page, long on law enforcement's radar for dubious contacts with Russian operatives, when they failed to reveal that information amassed in the dossier by former British spy Christopher Steele was paid for by opposition candidate Hillary Clinton. Nunes, who reportedly did not review the underlying classified information because he'd recused himself from the Russian probe in early spring pending an ethics investigation, defended the GOP memo at the time as revealing "serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.
"It is my hope that the committee's actions will shine a light on this alarming series of events so we can make reforms that allow the American people to have full faith and confidence in their governing institutions," Nunes said in a statement.
But the Democrat memo, penned by the committee's ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the “DOJ told the Court the truth” and the Steele research “played no role” in compelling a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign.
“The FBI speculates that the U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate #1's campaign,” the memo cites the FISA application as saying.