Democrats On House Intelligence Committee Release Rebuttal Memo That Utterly Decimates Nunes Memo
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have released a memo that completely eviscerates the memo prepared by Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
More than three weeks ago, the House Intelligence Committee, on a party-line vote, released a memo that had been prepared under the supervision of Committee Chairman and California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes that had long been the subject of a social media campaign and which President Trump had authorized be released earlier that same day. The memo purported to summarize the contents of a search warrant application aimed at Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had submitted to a Judge under the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The memo purported to claim that the Bureau had not presented complete information to the Judge who authorized the warrant in that the had not disclosed that the dossier prepared by a former British intelligence agent that formed a basis for at least part of the application had been in part funded by a group that had connections to the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. At the same time that the committee voted to release the Nunes Memo, they declined at the time to release a memo prepared by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff to rebut the claims of the Nunes Memo. The committee did vote to release that memo several days later, but the move was blocked by President Trump due to alleged concerns that the Schiff Memo contained classified information that could not be made public. This occurred despite the fact that Trump had ignored similar warnings about the Nunes Memo from the F.B.I. and the intelligence agencies when he authorized its release a week earlier.
Late yesterday, after making redactions in consultation with intelligence agencies, the Schiff Memo was finally released, and it goes a long way toward showing that the claims made in the original Nunes Memo were without any real support and that there appeared to be nothing improper about the initial warrant application or the three requests to extend that warrant that took place after Trump became President:
WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee released a redacted Democratic memorandum on Saturday countering Republican claims that top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide.
The document was intended by Democrats to offer a point-by-point refutation of what it called the “transparent” attempt by President Trump’s allies on the committee to undermine the congressional and special counsel investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
But the dueling accounts reflected an extraordinary struggle on the committee to try to shape public perceptions of the credibility of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies. For weeks, instead of focusing its full energy on investigating an attack on the American democratic system, the committee has been pulled into a furious effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to sow doubts about the integrity of the special counsel inquiry and the agencies conducting it.
The Democratic memo amounted to a forceful rebuttal to the president’s portrayal of the Russia inquiry as a “witch hunt” being perpetrated by politically biased leaders of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department.
The newfound animosity toward the F.B.I. among ostensibly law-and-order Republicans was reflected this past week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where speakers like Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, attacked what they called its “rogue leadership.”
At the conference on Saturday, Representative Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s Republican chairman, said the newly released memo showed that Democrats were engaged in a cover-up and were “colluding with parts of the government” to carry it out.
The Democratic memo underwent days of review by top law enforcement officials after the president blocked its outright release two weeks ago, with the White House counsel warning that the document “contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.” On Saturday afternoon, after weeks of haggling over redactions, the department returned the document to the committee so it could make it public.
The release was expected to be the final volley, at least for now, in a bitter partisan fight over surveillance that has driven deep fissures through the once-bipartisan Intelligence Committee.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said on Saturday that the Democratic memo should “put to rest” Republican assertions of wrongdoing against the former Trump aide, Carter Page, in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process.
“Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the F.B.I. and D.O.J. made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” he said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, the White House and Republicans sought to downplay the impact of the Schiff Memo:
Republicans, including Mr. Trump, were undeterred. The White House dismissed the Democratic document as an attempt “to undercut the president politically.”
“The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!”
The president said on Saturday night that the memo confirmed the Republican version of events and reflected poorly on Democrats, suggesting that both were grounds for launching an investigation of his political opponents.
“That was nothing but a confirmation, and a lot of bad things happened on the other side — not on this side, but on the other side — and somebody should look at it, because what they did was really fraudulent,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview with the Fox News host Jeanine Pirro.
“By somebody,” the president added, “I mean you-know-who.” He appeared to be referring to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, whom he has savaged in recent days for failing to open an investigation of unspecified “crimes” by Democrats
The Schiff Memo rebuts pretty much all of the central claims in the Nunes Memo point for point and appears to show as plainly as we can tell without seeing the search warrant application itself that the Bureau had advised the Judge who issued the initial warrant of the genesis and history of the so-called Steele Dossier, and that the Judge went on to authorize the warrant notwithstanding those closures. For example, the Democratic memo shows that the FISA Court was advised that the research in the dossier was commissioned by parties who wanted to discredit the Trump campaign, although the identity of those parties was not disclosed in the application, as is common practice in applications for FISA warrants out of an abundance of caution that naming individuals outside the scope of the warrant could be problematic. The Schiff memo also states that Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent, had been a trusted Bureau source in the past and that his dossier was only part of the evidence supporting the requested wiretap. The Schiff Memo shows that the Bureau laid out a “multipronged rationale” for surveillance on Carter Page, including the fact that he had previously interacted with people later identified as Russian intelligence agents. Indeed, the memo reveals that Page had been on the Bureau’s radar long before Page became associated with the Trump campaign, including an interview with Page in March 2016 regarding his contacts with Russian agents, this meeting took place before Page was named to the Trump’s campaign’s foreign policy team. Additionally, the memo says that the information from the Steele Dossier about page referred to specific activities of Page in early 2016, including meetings with people known to be closely associated with Vladimir Putin.
In other words, the Schiff Memo rebuts all of the key assertions of the Nunes memo, and even with the redactions requested by the intelligence community, it does so in a level of detail that makes it clear that the Republican memo was full of unsupported nonsense. None of this should come as a surprise, of course, since it was apparent from the moment that the Nunes Memo was released that it was far from being the earth-shattering revelation about bias and improper activity on the part of the F.B.I. and the intelligence community that conservatives were claiming it would be before it was released.
For example, almost as soon as the Nunes Memo was released, President Trump was claiming on Twitter that the memo “totally” vindicated him with respect to the Russia investigation, a claim that the White House repeated in its initial comments after the memo was released. In reality, this was not true at all and that, in fact, the memo itself showed that the underlying investigation of Russian interference in the election had begun at least three months before the warrant request was filed in the FISA Court and that the decision to open the investigation had nothing to do with Carter Page at all. Instead, the memo confirmed previously reported information that the investigation was started after the Bureau became aware of George Papadopoulos, another Trump foreign policy adviser, had told an Australian diplomat about the contact he had with Russian officials regarding “dirt” about Hillary Clinton. That conversation took place in July 2016 and was immediately shared with the Bureau by the Australian government as part of long-standing intelligence sharing agreements. Papadopoulos has, of course, since pled guilty to a charge of lying to an F.B.I. agent and is now a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation. Given this, it’s clear that the application to surveil Carter Page based in part on information contained in the Steele Dossier was a part of the Bureau’s still young Russia investigation, not the genesis of that investigation.
The Schiff memo also confirms something that became apparent mere days after the Nunes Memo, namely that the latter contains significant misinformation and outright lies. The most prominent of those lies, of course, was the claim that the Bureau did not disclose to the Court the fact that the Steele Dossier was, at least in part, financed by an organization that had received money for opposition research that could potentially be used against Trump from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. As noted above, the Schiff Memo shows that the Court was in fact informed of the biased nature of the groups that funded the dossier. Additionally, while it’s true that some of the funding for the Steele Dossier came from Democratic sources, it’s also true that the initial funding for what became the so-called “Steele Dossier” came from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news and opinion website that was opposed to Trump during the race for the GOP nomination. Not only didn’t the Nunes memo not disclose that last fact, it also apparently misstated the truth in its claim that the roots of the Steele Dossier as what essentially amounts to opposition research was not disclosed to the FISA Court when the warrant application was made in October 2016. For that reason and others, it quickly became apparent that the Nunes Memo was a complete dud, and for the most part, it has not had anywhere near the political impact that the conservatives who had been pushing for its released claimed that it would.
At this point, it’s unclear what if any impact the Schiff Memo will have on the ongoing conversation about the Russia investigation. In part, this is due to the fact that most of the nation’s and the media’s attention remains focused on the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida on Valentine’s Day. However, it’s also due in no small part to the fact that the Nunes Memo itself has proven to be so inconsequential that this rebuttal isn’t likely to get the amount of attention it might have gotten had its predecessor been more credible. In any case, what it does reveal is that the Russia investigation and the surveillance of Carter Page were both based on hard evidence and that the Russia investigation is not the “deep state” conspiracy that Trump supporters claim it to be.
Here’s the Schiff memo: