New York’s lawmakers react to release of controversial memo

House Democratic caucus chair Joe Crowley
House Democratic caucus chair Joe Crowley
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House Democratic caucus chair Joe Crowley

New York’s lawmakers react to release of controversial memo

New York Republicans backed President Trump, and leading Democrats cried foul.
February 2, 2018

It’s a day that will live on in America’s memo-ry. The House Intelligence Committee published a controversial memo accusing the FBI and the Justice Department of abusing their surveillance powers to spy on a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, after Trump authorized its release. The committee, including Long Island Rep. Pete King, voted to release the memo over the objections of its Democratic members, who believe it provides cover for Trump to interfere with or end the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The FBI also warned against releasing the report before it was published, expressing, “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

The uproar over the memo extends to New York, home to high-ranking Democrats and Republicans who have sometimes clashed with Trump. Despite their usual tendency to back law enforcement and intelligence agencies, all the New York Republicans who issued statements or voted on the matter sided with the president. Leading New York Democrats, meanwhile, attacked what they call a partisan political maneuver. Here are reactions from key players in the New York congressional delegation:

Republican reactions

Rep. Peter King

King, usually a strong supporter of law enforcement, defended his vote to release a document that FBI and Justice Department officials say unfairly maligns law enforcement agents and could compromise national security in an interview with CNN on Thursday. “I’ve said over and over again I support 99.9 percent of the people in the FBI, I’ve been a strong FBI supporter,” King said. He also downplayed the memo’s importance, saying, “this is not going to turn things upside down.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin

Zeldin, also from a Long Island, is a staunch supporter of Trump, and of publishing the memo. Like Trump, he has used Twitter to issue statements on the subject.

After the memo was released, Zeldin said that it revealed abuse by those in top positions at the FBI and Justice Department.

Former Rep. Michael Grimm

Grimm is currently running against Rep. Dan Donovan, whom he claims is insufficiently supportive of Trump. He published a press release touting his own background, and making oblique reference to his own guilty plea for federal tax fraud, while supporting the memo:

“The declassified memo on the origins of the Special Counsel's investigation is nothing short of alarming. I am a former FBI agent with the utmost respect for my fellow rank-and-file law enforcement officers. But the facts presented in this memo indisputably reveal something I unfortunately have encountered first-hand – the deceit, political motivation and disregard for the law that have taken root in the upper echelons of our justice system.”

Rep. Dan Donovan

The Staten Island Republican offered his support for releasing the memo in a press release – while also highlighting his law enforcement bona fides:

“As a former prosecutor, I’m deeply concerned by the contents of this memo. Context is of course important, but the clear conflicts outlined in this document appear to violate the most basic principles of legal fairness. Whether it's the powers of the FBI, the FISA Court or our elected leaders themselves, our democracy is dependent on the trust of the American people, and getting to the truth is the only way to restore it.”

Democratic Reactions

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer

Rep. Joe Crowley

Crowley, the House Democratic caucus chair, signed a letter to Trump with other members of Democratic leadership in Congress, including Schumer, to air their displeasure:

“The decision to release a partisan and misleading memo over the objections of your own Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director and the Department of Justice (DOJ) was a transparent attempt to discredit the hard-working men and women of law enforcement who are investigating Russia’s interference with our Presidential election and that nation’s ties to your campaign.

“We are alarmed by reports that you may intend to use this misleading document as a pretext to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in an effort to corruptly influence or impede Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation.

“We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation. Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ Leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre. “

Crowley later released his own separate response:

“This memo was not released in the interest of our national security. It was not released in the interest of finding the truth. And it was not released in the interest of the American people. It’s being done in the interest of protecting President Trump and his congressional lackeys.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler

Nadler, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee – and the member who would preside over hypothetical impeachment proceedings if the Democrats reclaimed Congress in 2018 – wrote a joint statement with other members of the committee that did not pull any punches:

“President Trump’s decision to allow the release of Chairman Nunes’ Republican talking points is part of a coordinated propaganda effort to discredit, disable and defeat the Russia investigation. House Republicans are now accomplices to a shocking campaign to obstruct the work of the Special Counsel, to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the Justice Department and the FBI, and to bury the fact that a foreign adversary interfered with our last election.

“This Republican campaign is a betrayal of the American people. None of this is a surprise coming from President Trump, who has a long track record of dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for the rule of law. But, until now, Congressional Republicans simply ignored and provided cover to this Administration’s obvious, coordinated attempt to protect President Trump at any cost. But releasing these Nunes talking points—likely prepared in coordination with the Trump White House—constitutes a deliberate and active complicity in the Administration’s attempts to undermine the Special Counsel and the FBI.”

Nadler also tweeted:

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.
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