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WASHINGTON: The bitterness between Donald Trump and the FBI has intensified after the release of a controversial Republican memo, with the president calling its a "disgrace" while the agency's chief pledging to defend his agents.
The memo which was released yesterday accuses senior law enforcement officials of misleading a court in order to conduct surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser during its probe into the alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 election.
"The memorandum raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI to use the government's most intrusive surveillance tools against American citizens," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
The memo, written by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, alleges that the FBI used the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia written by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to secure a FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page without disclosing that the dossier was funded in part by Democratic sources.
Sanders said the decision to release the memo was made with input from the president's national security team — including law enforcement officials and members of the intelligence community.
"..for whom the president has great respect. He is especially grateful to the hardworking rank-and-file public servants who work every day to keep America safe and uphold our laws while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans," Sanders said.
Noting that minority members of the Committee have reportedly drafted a separate memorandum, Sanders said the administration stands ready to work with Congress to accommodate oversight requests consistent with applicable standards, including the need to protect intelligence sources and methods.
Trump called the memo's contents "a disgrace".
"A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves," he said following the memo's declassification.
Coming out in Trump's defence, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said the memo "highlights a truth".
"The integrity of even our law enforcement and intelligence agencies can be politicised and compromised. From time-to-time, we all must be reminded of that vulnerability.
That is why we must insist on congressional oversight of all federal agencies, especially of our foreign and domestic intelligence services," he said.
Rohrabacher commended Trump for "standing up for transparency" and alleged that the Democrats tried to thwart the inquiry.
"This was nothing less than an attempted cover-up of wrongdoing by the last administration. This whole episode makes Watergate pale in comparison," he said.
Publicly, the FBI said nothing, but Director Christopher Wray sent out a video and written statement to employees, urging them not to get distracted by the debate raging about them.
"The American people read the papers, and they hear lots of talk on cable TV and social media. But they see and experience the actual work you do, keeping communities safe and our nation secure, often dealing with sensitive matters and making decisions under difficult circumstances," Wray said.
"And that work will always matter more. Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure."
It is unclear whether Trump will use the memo to fire people involved in the Russia probe, including Deputy Attorney General Rod J Rosenstein, who oversees it.
Democrats warned against any dismissals at the Justice Department, saying such moves would trigger a constitutional crisis.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was abruptly fired by Trump last year for his handling of the Russia inquiry, criticised the memo.
"That's it?" Comey said on Twitter.
"Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what?"
Comey wrote, adding: "DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs."
Since he was fired, Comey has increasingly taken to Twitter to support the FBI and other intelligence agencies.