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Democrats Turn Up Pressure Over Nunes Memo As Trump Weighs Release

(CNN) -- Congressional Democrats are ratcheting up their criticism of the classified GOP memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance authority, ahead of President Donald Trump's looming deadline to decide whether to release the document to the public.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said Republicans are trying to compromise the independence of the Justice Department with their push to release the memo, which was spearheaded by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.

Asked in an interview on CNN's "New Day" Wednesday if he was prepared for the memo to come out, Cardin said, "To me this is sad and dangerous."

"We're talking about defending the rule of law, defending the independence of the Department of Justice," said Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "You would think Congress would stand up for the independence for the Department of Justice."

He added, "It looks like the Republicans are prepared to compromise our system in order to protect the President."

On Monday night, the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release the memo, leaving the President five days to decide whether to withhold it instead.

The memo charges that the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele was improperly used to secure a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The memo is based on classified information from the Department of Justice that Democrats argue Republicans "cherry-picked" in an effort to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, and as a result is "profoundly misleading."

The House Intelligence Committee voted to curb a rebuttal memo written by the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, which argues that the FBI followed proper procedures in obtaining the FISA warrant.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own Russia investigation, called Nunes' process in handling the memo a "scam."

"It tells you it's a scam. The whole thing he's doing and why he's doing this," Manchin said Wednesday on CNN, referring to the California Republican. "It doesn't help the President, our country, the administration. It doesn't do anything but put more of a cloud and doubt."

While many House Republicans are hoping the memo is released, arguing that its contents are "shocking" and "jaw-dropping," some Senate Republicans are urging caution.

Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana is pushing for the memo to be released so long as the classified information is redacted.

"If there is classified information in that memo, it shouldn't be released," Kennedy said Wednesday on CNN's "New Day." "If they release it anyway, to be fair, the Democrats ought to be allowed to release their memo."

"My strong preference would be not have either side put spin on it, go through the original material and try and take out all the classified information," he added.

Trump has told aides he wants the memo released as quickly as possible, but he held off on publishing it before Tuesday night to avoid minimizing his message of unity with his State of the Union address.

When asked whether the President has seen the memo yet, press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday, "Not that I'm aware of. I know he hadn't as of last night prior to and immediately after the State of the Union."

Sanders said the White House is waiting to complete the legal and national security review before it considers releasing the memo.

She sought to assure that no matter what the President's decision is, "no one here is going to make a decision that jeopardizes national security."

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