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.
HUDSON FALLS — A raucous community meeting on Thursday night in Hudson Falls prevented the Alliance for Positive Health from sharing information with concerned residents about a proposed syringe exchange program in the village.
The highly-charged crowd of nearly 170 attending a last-minute meeting called by Deputy Mayor Bob Cook expressed fears about the syringe exchange and their perceived danger of intravenous drug users coming into their community.
“This is a potentially violent culture with unpredictable behaviors,” said Cook, adding that businesses and restaurant bathrooms will be at risk if “heroin addicts” come to Hudson Falls.
But unrestrained emotions kept the health care provider from addressing community concerns, despite repeated attempts by Alliance administrators.
Regional Director Diana Aguglia, who runs the Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga syringe exchange programs for Alliance, brought detailed information about what syringe exchanges do, how they operate, statistics about why Hudson Falls was chosen, and letters of support, including one from the Plattsburgh Chief of Police, to the meeting.
“They never got to hear this,” Aguglia said, adding that she has never been disrespected in a community before and that Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga are very supportive of the program and locations. “We have never had bad publicity — no drama, no hurtful comments. The communities we are in have been wonderful.”
According to Plattsburgh Chief of Police, the syringe exchange program has helped the city.
“It is my pleasure to write a letter commending the Alliance for Positive Health in its endeavors to keep the streets free from harmful syringes and reducing the risk of contamination to the public,” wrote Ken Parkinson, chief, in a letter Aguglia brought to the meeting, but did not have an opportunity to share. “We have seen a marked decrease in the amount of discarded needles thrown away in a haphazard manner in places that are readily available to the public.
“(Syringe exchange programs) also benefit the communities in which they operate by keeping discarded, used syringes off the streets ... and serving as a gateway to engage difficult to reach individuals,” Parkinson wrote.
Misconceptions about IV drug users and syringe exchange
Hudson Falls was designated as a moderate — 50 to 79 percentile — injection drug use risk area, according to the Department of Health.
“Those numbers are older and the problem is much worse now,” said Aguglia.
Glens Falls Hospital reported 17 cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2015; nine were reported in 2014. Washington County had a 357 percent increase in emergency room visits for overdose from 2010 to 2014; Washington County had a 43 percent increase in opiate associated drug poisoning deaths during that same time.
“The IV drug users are already there,” Aguglia said. “You want (syringe exchange sites) to be in an area with the greatest need. What happens with syringe exchange, the community gets services to help them. ”
But Cook painted a dark and sinister image of heroin users, during Thursday's meeting.
“When I heard them talk about fears of riding in the same elevator, the comment startled me,” Aguiglia said. “I am sure there were people in the room struggling with addiction. The comments said last night were very damaging and hurtful. It further stigmatizes addiction and doesn’t get people into treatment ... These are people — they need support.”
Aguglia also said that she believes the concerned residents don’t really understand how syringe exchange programs work.
“I think they believe clinics run 24-7 with people dropping off needles all night long. In Plattsburgh, we are open three days a week,” she said. “They come, get their services and leave. They know the police know. They don’t shoot up here or near here. They are too afraid of getting the place shut down and they respect it.”
“Our mission is to stabilize people, keep them healthy and keep them alive,” she said. “Our staff is really good at it.”
At Thursday's meeting, Bill Faragon, Alliance executive director, tried to explain that the Alliance for Positive Health’s Project Exchange provides new sterile syringes and other injection supplies, safe disposal of used syringes, and opioid overdose prevention.
Additionally, Project Exchange offers education and information on safer injection techniques and safer sex practices; referrals to HIV, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis testing; health care and substance abuse programs; free Narcan training and kits for opioid overdose prevention; and replacement Narcan kits.
It’s the beginning, not the end
Beyond fears of increased crime and heroin users loitering in Hudson Falls hallways, at issue for Cook and others was the proposed Main Street location for the clinic and his belief that Alliance for Positive Health had intentionally left the village out of site discussions.
“This was an underhanded attempt to sneak this program into the community,” Cook said. “This was avoidable — make a call, send an email, send a text and say, ‘we would like to talk with you.’”
Nonetheless, an Alliance clinic director, no longer working for the provider, secured 17 letters of support from local hospitals, health care providers, recovery and treatment programs, a church and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro.
During Thursday’s meeting, three groups — the Washington County Sheriff, Friends for Recovery and the Council for Prevention — said they recently rescinded their letters because Alliance was being deceptive and trying to hide the location.
Katherine Chambers of the Council for Prevention said that they had not been at the table and the council was not informed about the location.
“I assume they are talking about the Hometown vs. Heroin meetings. He (the former employee) was attending monthly meetings and when he left, it took us five months to find a new director, but we still made three out of five meetings,” she said. “It wasn’t true that we weren’t at the table.”
Aguglia said that when the former employee secured the letters of support, they did not know where the location would be, except that they wanted it somewhere in Washington or Warren County.
Additionally, Alliance has run a health care clinic on La Cross Street in Hudson Falls for 10 years. And because they had outgrown that space, they began looking for a new clinic location. When they found the space at 124 Main Street, they thought perhaps that would be a good location for the syringe exchange.
But before they could talk to the community about the location, Alliance had to make sure the Main Street site met health clinic regulations, she said.
“The next step was getting community support and an advisory board,” she said. “You don’t start a community advisory board until you know about the location.”
At the meeting, Alliance outside counsel, Robert Stout Jr. tried to explain this to the unruly crowd, but they kept shouting.
“This is just the beginning, this is not finalized,” Stout said.
And despite Cook’s accusations of deceptive practices, zoning laws prevent such actions without public hearings and public comment.
Paul Hancock, a meeting attendee, rose in support of Alliance.“I know these people, they are people of integrity,” he said, adding that syringe exchange programs are supported by the American Medical Association.
But a man in the audience screamed a verbal attack at Hancock, forcefully shutting down further comments.
The Council for Prevention Executive Director Amanda West said on Friday that they had rescinded their letter because they had not heard from Alliance about the location and they do not approve the location.
West was under the impression Alliance had already signed a 10-year lease on the site.
According to Bill Faragon, Alliance executive director, the lease is contingent on community approval of the location.
West said on Friday they would reconsider their position for a different location.
“We support their mission, just not that location,” she said.
The next step is for Alliance to present preliminary information to the Hudson Falls Planning Board on Feb. 21.
QUEENSBURY — A Queensbury man who has served as a lieutenant and vice president for the Queensbury Central Fire Co. was arrested late Thursday for allegedly sending lewd material to a child and having unwanted contact with him, officials said.
John M. Novohradsky, 53, of Berry Patch Drive, was charged with disseminating indecent material to a minor, a felony, and misdemeanor forcible touching after an investigation by State Police into allegations raised about improper contact with a teen who was under the age of 17 and too young to legally consent.
He is accused of providing lewd materials to the teen, and the misdemeanor count alleges he “forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire,” according to state Penal Law.
Authorities said the child, with whom Novohradsky was acquainted and he knew through his position in fire service, disclosed the allegations to a parent who contacted police. Officials said Novohradsky confessed to State Police investigators when he was questioned.
The Fire Department suspended him when learning of the arrest.
He was arraigned Friday morning and released on his own recognizance pending prosecution in Queensbury Town Court.
Novohradsky was a former fire chief of the Buchanan Engine Co. in Westchester County before he became a member of Queensbury Central in 2013.
Queensbury Central’s leadership roster had been scrubbed of his name as of Friday morning, though he was still listed among the active members. Calls to the department’s chief and president were not returned Friday.
The department issued a statement Friday that read, “The Queensbury Central Volunteer Fire Company has just been informed of an arrest of one our members, John Novohradsky. To protect the members of our organization and the community, the officials of the fire company took immediate action to suspend this member indefinitely, pending the outcome of the State Police investigation.”
Novohradsky’s Facebook page was also edited Friday, with his involvement with Queensbury Central removed from his profile.
Novohradsky was represented by the Warren County Public Defender’s Office at his arraignment.
Public Defender Marcy Flores said her office was assigned at any arraignment, but she said it was unclear whether he would be represented by the office going forward. Representation is based on income, and Novohradsky’s Facebook page shows he is employed by a public safety software company
State Police asked that anyone with information about the case contact them at 518-583-7000.
The felony charge is punishable by up to 4 years in state prison.