WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declassified a top-secret congressional memo Friday and suggested it proved the investigation of his presidential campaign and Russia was fatally flawed from the start. Democrats said the document did nothing to clear him or his campaign, and the FBI called the memo inaccurate and incomplete.
Butting heads just as they had before the memo's release, Trump and his critics stuck to the positions they had staked out in the weeks leading up to the hotly disputed release of the memo prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. The memo makes their case — and Trump's — that politically motivated abuses in the early stages of the FBI's investigation made it worse than worthless.
The Democrats, having none of it, said the four-page memo merely cherry-picks Republican talking points in an effort to smear law enforcement and undercut the current federal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, said the GOP document "mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information" and its release "will do long-term damage to the intelligence community and our law enforcement agencies."
The memo's central premise is that the FBI relied excessively on anti-Trump research funded by Democrats in seeking a warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump campaign associate and that federal authorities concealed the full details of who was paying for the information.
The disclosure of the document is extraordinary since it involves details about surveillance of Americans, national security information the government regards as among its most highly classified. Its release is likely to further escalate an intra-government conflict that has divided the White House and Trump's hand-picked law enforcement leaders.
Trump, who lashed out at the FBI and Justice Department on Friday morning, refused to express confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and is mentioned by name in the memo.
Asked if he was more likely to fire Rosenstein, and if he still had confidence in him, Trump retorted, "You figure that one out."
A senior White House official said later the administration expects Rosenstein to remain in his job.
Trump has been telling confidants he believed the memo would validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him. Though the document had been classified since it deals with warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the White House declassified it Friday and sent it to the intelligence committee chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, for immediate release.
The development also comes amid an ongoing effort by Trump and congressional Republicans to discredit the investigation by Mueller that focuses not only on whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia but also on whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Republicans seized on the memo's allegations to argue that the FBI's investigation was politically biased.
The memo does not address obstruction questions that have led Mueller to express interest in interviewing Trump. But it does reveal the FBI investigation actually began in July 2016, months before the warrant was even sought, based on information involving a separate Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, who has already pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Mueller inherited the probe in May 2017. Four people have so far been charged in his investigation.
Trump said Friday of the information in the memo: "I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country, I think it's a disgrace."
Earlier in the day, he tweeted: "The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people."
The memo offered the first government confirmation that the FBI in October 2016 obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, on the basis that agents believed he might be an agent of a foreign power — Russia. That warrant was signed off on multiple times, including by Rosenstein.
In a statement, Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser and came on the FBI radar in 2013 as part of a separate counterintelligence probe, said, "The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America's democracy."
The memo asserts that opposition research conducted by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, "formed an essential part" of the initial application to receive the warrant. It's unclear how much or what information Steele collected was included in the application, or how much has been corroborated. Steele's research into Trump and Russia was compiled into a series of memos, or a dossier, containing salacious allegations.
The FBI routinely relies on multiple sources of information when it obtains surveillance warrants. And the memo makes clear that the FBI believed there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power and a judge agreed — four times over.
SIOUX CITY | Two dozen students spread throughout a Perry Creek Elementary School room Thursday, eyes down, focused on a board with 64 squares and a variety of pawns, rooks, bishops, the powerful queen and of course the coveted king.
They took a break to listen to Chess Club founder Jason Gann, gesturing at a few scenarios projected onto a white board.
"Is there any place for this king to go, and not be in check?" Gann asked.
Third-grader Earl Phetteplace was among those eagerly offering an option, which he showed with a marker on the board after leaving his spot.
"Ah, ha. I like Earl's move," Gann responded.
A bit later, Gann worked through a back-rank checkmate scenario on the board: "Everybody see it? Anybody not see it?"
He added, "You can go from winning the game to losing the game in one play, so you have to be careful on the sequence."
Since October, Gann and Perry Creek students in third through fifth grades have gathered early on Thursdays for 45 minutes before the start of school to take part in Chess Club. Gann thought there could be some good lessons from the methodical and thoughtful approach to playing chess, so he pitched school officials on starting the club.
The school Parent Teacher Association lined up the 40 chess boards and pieces, and pupil numbers have held strong most Thursdays. A big core of pupils return every week, while some newcomers like Will Bertrand peppered in their participation in the spring semester.
"I wouldn't say I am the best, but I think I am OK...It is fun to play logic-thinking games like this," said Bertrand, a fourth-grader.
Some people like an interloping reporter know the basic moves each piece can make, but to be good at chess it pays to be able to think a move or more ahead. Fourth-grader Marcella Palmer said she plots at least one move ahead, and she's gained skill from being in the club, after hearing about it from Perry Creek Talented and Gifted Teacher Rochelle Greig.
"I have improved from when I started. I have improved in making checkmates," Palmer said.
Several students finished two or three games over the 35 minutes they played beyond the 10 minutes of instruction Gann provided Thursday.
The club participants are a mixture of TAG students and others. Greig said such a club would be a boon at other district schools, given the "logical reasoning and social skills." She said pulling that off likely requires more volunteers at schools.
Gann, an attorney in his day job, plays at home with daughters, Cheryl and Claire Gann. He is pleased their fellow Perry Creek students have embraced chess.
"It teaches them to think a move ahead. It teaches kids competition, how to win, how to be a good sport," Gann said.
"I know they play a lot of video games, and it is another format to play in."
Gann said he prepared a series of lessons to fill the school year through May.
"We finished it by Thanksgiving. Their understanding is so much faster than I thought it would be. They have met and exceeded my expectations already," Gann said.
Phetteplace extolled the benefits of chess.
"I love chess, because it makes me think and I love thinking and I love games...I love to think about what I am going to do," Phetteplace said.
At home, Phetteplace also likes the board game Aggravation, and now he has a chess game too in his family of four.
"I asked for it for Christmas. I got one, and my sister broke the board, so I am kind of mad at her," he said.
SIOUX CITY | In addition to sliding down the park's 700-foot tubing hill, visitors to Cone Park will also be able to ice skate on a brand-new rink beginning Saturday.
The city is opening a 5,400-square-foot refrigerated ice skating rink for the first time at 9 a.m. Saturday. The rink is refrigerated to offer extended use through the winter months and will transition to a free splash pad in the summer.
"We are extremely pleased with the positive responses we have received for the tubing hill," Parks and Recreation Director Matt Salvatore said in a news release. "The opening of the ice skating rink will provide visitors with another opportunity to enjoy the park."
The skating rink will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays.
Park-goers who pay to use the park's tubing hill can skate at the skating rink at no cost. The price for ice skating only is $5. Skate rentals cost $3 and are not included with either admission price.
The rink is titled the Ruth Cone Skate and Splash presented by Missouri River Historical Development. MRHD was a major donor and supporter of the project. Ruth Cone is the late philanthropist whose family in 1981 created the trust that served as the park's primary funding source.
Located on a spacious field east of the IBP Ice Center parking lot, Cone Park opened in late December and features a tubing hill, refrigerated ice skating, fire pit and day lodge. It will also feature a free splash pad and multi-use trail in the summer.