Democrats urge Facebook, Twitter to investigate accounts pushing '#ReleaseTheMemo' campaign

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Senior congressional Democrats urged social media companies to investigate accounts reportedly linked to a Russian influence operation on Tuesday, after claims they may have been used to help promote criticism of the U.S. Justice Department and the probe of President Donald Trump's ties with Moscow.

Amid growing partisan rancor over the probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and ranking Democrat on Senate Judiciary, and Representative Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on House Intelligence, wrote to Twitter Inc and Facebook Inc, requesting an "in-depth forensic examination."

Republicans have been calling for the release of a classified memorandum commissioned by the House Intelligence committee's Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, which they say shows anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department, backed by a social media campaign with the hashtag #ReleasetheMemo.

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Democrats have criticized the memo as a "misleading set of talking points."

Last week, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the nonpartisan German Marshall Fund, said Kremlin-controlled accounts were put into action as part of an expanded social media influence campaign to amplify demands for release of the secret memo.

Feinstein and Schiff's committees - along with special counsel Mueller - are investigating whether Russia sought to influence the 2016 election and allegations of collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow.

Moscow denies seeking to influence the election, and Trump denies collusion.

"If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process," Feinstein and Schiff wrote to Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The lawmakers asked for a public report to Congress and the public by Jan. 26, and immediate steps to deactivate such accounts.

A Facebook spokesman said the company received the letter and was reviewing it. A Twitter spokeswoman said the company takes assertions of malicious activities seriously and looked forward to working closely with the lawmakers to address their concerns.

SEE ALSO: Pope says fake news is satanic, condemns use in politics

Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said priorities "are out of whack" when Democrats ask for the investigation "of a hashtag," but not the loss of Federal Bureau of Investigation evidence about text messages.

In another partisan dispute related to the Russia investigation, Republican Senator Ron Johnson released a letter this week saying the FBI did not keep text messages from officials involved in investigations of Trump and his Democratic 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, for six months ending in May 2017.

Trump tweeted about the texts on Tuesday. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown)

RELATED: Key Trump officials, advisers wrapped up in the Russia probe

Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe
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Key Trump officials, advisers of note in the Russia probe

Tom Barrack

The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.

The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Donald Trump

2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.

Sam Clovis

Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)

Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy

Jason Miller
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Eric Trump
Donald Trump Jr.
Ivanka Trump
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
US Vice President Mike Pence
Katrina Pierson
K.T. McFarland
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci

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