Trump Russia: Democrats say firing special counsel could cause crisis

President Donald Trump speaks while touring the CBP National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia, 2 February 2018

Senior Democrats have warned President Donald Trump not to use a controversial memo as a “pretext” to fire the special counsel investigating alleged Russian involvement in the US election.

They warned that such action could trigger a constitutional crisis not seen since the Nixon era.

The memo, written by Republicans, accuses the FBI of abusing its powers.

President Trump approved the declassification of the memo and said it revealed a disgraceful story.

It accuses the FBI and the justice department of using an unsubstantiated and Democratic-funded report to obtain the warrant that gave permission to spy on an aide to Mr Trump.

Democrats said the release of the memo was aimed at disrupting investigations into alleged links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. President Trump has consistently denied any such collusion.

The FBI had warned against the memo’s release and said key facts had been omitted.

What have Democrats said?

Democrats say the memo, released on Friday, is a “shameful effort to discredit” the FBI and inquiries into Russian meddling.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Nancy Pelosi and eight other senior Democrats warned Mr Trump against trying to sack special counsel Robert Mueller or the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

  • Key parts of memo – and what it means

“We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation,” the statement said.

They said such action could result in a constitutional crisis not seen since the 1970s when then President Richard Nixon gave orders to fire justice officials involved in the Watergate scandal.

The White House later said “no changes” would be made at the Department of Justice and Mr Rosenstein was fully expected to continue in his job.

What is in the memo?

It focuses on the court-approved wiretapping of Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who was put under electronic surveillance by the FBI.

But the memo accuses the FBI and the justice department of using unsubstantiated evidence to obtain the October 2016 warrant.

It says that they did not tell the authorities their claim to the warrant was partially based on a dossier funded in part by the rival campaign of Hillary Clinton.

It also says that the author of that dossier, a former British intelligence agent called Christopher Steele, told a senior justice department official that he was “desperate” that Donald Trump should not win the vote.

The Democrats have drafted their own 10-page rebuttal memo, which is said to show that the FBI was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say.

According to unnamed officials quoted by US media, the FBI and justice department did tell the court that information it had received from Mr Steele was politically motivated.

One official told the Washington Post that the Department of Justice made “ample disclosure” to the court of facts that revealed “the research was being paid for by a political entity”. However, the FBI did not say the dossier was financed by Democrats, sources told the New York Times.

The White House said President Trump “would be inclined” to release the Democrats’ memo, as long as it has been reviewed for security purposes.