ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's the end of round one in the battle of the memos. Earlier this month, House Intelligence Committee Republicans released a memo that charged the FBI and Justice Department abused their surveillance powers in targeting a one-time adviser to Donald Trump. Now after a delay, Democrats have released their response. NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing has been reading a lot of memos lately and is here to talk them over with us. Hey, Phil.
PHILIP EWING, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: We have talked so much about what was in the Republican memo. In a nutshell, what was in this Democratic response?
EWING: Basically everything Republicans said, Democrats say the opposite. For Republicans, this Russia story is about, what they call, an abuse of power inside the FBI and the Justice Department. They argue that those agencies didn't give all the information they were supposed to give to a judge to authorize surveillance on this one-time adviser to Trump's campaign Carter Page. Democrats say, in fact, the agencies conducted themselves appropriately. They made the disclosures they needed to make. And they basically want us to continue to have confidence in the FBI and Justice. That's what this boils down to. This is a dispute over whether Americans should trust the work of the FBI and the Justice Department. Republicans say they shouldn't. Democrats say we should.
SHAPIRO: So those are the big-picture conclusions of the Republicans and the Democrats - that the FBI is or is not trustworthy. When you get down to the meat of it, a lot of it talks about the Steele dossier, which allegedly was the basis for the surveillance on this former Trump aide. And the Republicans said this was kind of tainted from the outset. What did Democrats say?
EWING: That's right. Christopher Steele was a British intelligence officer who was hired by a private intelligence company in Washington to do research about Donald Trump's relations with Russia during the 2016 campaign. That work was underwritten by Democrats, and that's why Republicans say anything involving the dossier in applications the FBI or Justice Department made for surveillance is, in their view, not appropriate since it was a political document. What Democrats argue is that in fact not only did the Justice Department use information from this dossier, it used all kinds of other evidence that it had about this person Page - about his flirtations with Russia's intelligence service. And also the Democrat memo makes clear the FBI has verified some of the things that are in that Steele dossier.
SHAPIRO: So the question is why was the FBI spying on this former Trump aide. And the narrative the Democrats lay out is a lot of reasons including but not limited to the Steele dossier. And furthermore, as you say, they confirmed some of the details in this dossier. Do we know what they confirmed?
EWING: No. Unfortunately, one of the things that is different from the Republican memo to the Democratic memo is the Democratic memo was heavily redacted. It's gone through the bureaucratic chop chain process with the FBI and Justice Department, and it includes large sections that are blacked out. Republicans have a privilege and advantage here. They have a majority on the Intelligence Committee. They have an ally in Donald Trump in the White House in control of the executive branch. And so they could get their memo out relatively quickly and the whole thing unexpurgated. Democrats have had to deal with the fact that they have one hand tied behind their back, as it were. And they can't tell the full story in the way that they want to tell it.
SHAPIRO: OK, I've got the Democratic memo here. And as you say, there are huge portions - well, not huge portions but significant portions that are blacked out. One of the things that leaves us wondering is which details of the Steele dossier were confirmed. What else does this leave us wondering? What else don't we know because of the redactions?
EWING: Well, so there are some interesting references to the surveillance or subinvestigations the FBI began doing in 2016 of people in the Trump orbit. We've talked about Page. We've also talked on our air about a foreign policy adviser named George Papadopoulos, who was kind of buttonholed by some Russian agents in London and offered dirt on Hillary Clinton and so-called off-the-record meetings between Trump campaign people and Russian officials. And the Democrat countermemo makes clear that there were other people in the Trump camp who were being investigated by the FBI as soon as the investigation began in 2016. But the number of persons is blacked out, and their titles and names are also blacked out. So we know that investigation was taking place. We just don't know who the focus of it was.
SHAPIRO: OK, so this is the end of round one of the battle of the memos. What's round two?
EWING: That's a great question. The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, has said he could have another memo about the Obama administration-era State Department and its conduct in this story. Democrats might release a countermemo. But the other story that has come out of this month of dueling memos is this might be the way the game is played now in the big city. The majority and the minority trade fire over long periods of time with these materials because each one is trying so hard to shape the public's perception of this story.
SHAPIRO: NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing. Thanks, Phil.
EWING: Thank you.
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