Democrats have sounded the alarm of a potential constitutional crisis in Washington, warning that President Donald Trump may use the release of a top-secret memo as grounds to fire his deputy attorney-general and undermine a special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
On Sunday Democrats amplified calls to release a report written by minority members of the House intelligence committee, which they said would cast doubt over the accuracy of the memo, which alleges the Federal Bureau of Investigation misled a secret federal court when it received permission to wiretap Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to Mr Trump. In a tweet over the weekend, Mr Trump suggested the memo’s findings could be enough to end Robert Mueller’s investigation, sparking fears that the White House would use the memo, written by Republican lawmakers, as an excuse to end the probe. Its release is likely to put further pressure on Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney-general, who appointed Mr Mueller.
“To say that that’s the end of the investigation, that this is all Trump needs to fire Rosenstein or to fire Bob Mueller, I’ll just tell you this could precipitate a constitutional crisis,” Dick Durbin, the Senate minority whip, said on CNN. “If the House Republicans believe they’ve set the stage for this president to end this investigation, they are basically saying that in America one man is above the law.”
His Republican colleagues were “bound and determined to continue to find ways to absolve this president from any responsibility”, Mr Durbin alleged. “And frankly it’s doing Putin’s work.” Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in an interview with ABC that Mr Trump’s decision to disregard FBI and Justice Department warnings and release the memo “could be evidence of the president’s intent to interfere with the investigation”. Leon Panetta, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, echoed Mr Durbin’s “constitutional crisis” warnings.
“I believe it creates a constitutional crisis when the president distrusts the justice department and the FBI . . . They’re the primary law enforcement agencies under our constitution,” Mr Panetta told CBS. Washington was braced for further fallout from the memo on Monday, amid calls from some Republicans to sack Mr Rosenstein who, according to the document, signed “one or more” of the requests to put the Trump campaign operative under surveillance.