House Intelligence Committee Releases Memo Claiming Bias In Russia Investigation
Republicans have released the memo prepared by Congressman Devin Nunes that purports to call into question the basis for the Russia investigation. In the end, though, it amounts to much ado about nothing.
As anticipated, earlier today President Trump authorized the House Intelligence Committee to release the memorandum prepared by Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and the Republican staff of the committee purporting to share what they claim to is bias by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department in the initial requests for surveillance against at least one official connected to the Trump campaign, and shortly after that authorization was given the memo was released to the public:
A GOP memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI has been released, intensifying a fight between the White House and Republican lawmakers, on one side, and the nation’s top law enforcement agency over whether the origins of a probe into Russian interference in 2016 were tainted by political bias.
President Trump had approved release of the memo without redactions Friday morning.
The four-page, newly declassified memo written by the Republican staffers for the House Intelligence Committee said the findings “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain (Justice Department) and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC),” calling it “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”
The memo accuses former officials who approved the surveillance applications – a group that includes former FBI Director James B. Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates and current Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — of signing off on court surveillance requests that omitted key facts about the political motivations of the person supplying some of the information, Christopher Steele, a former intelligence officer in Britain.
The memo says Steele “was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations — an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI.”
The memo is not an intelligence document and reflects information the committee has gathered, which Democrats, the FBI and Justice Department have criticized as incomplete and misleading.
Current and former law enforcement officials said a major concern inside the FBI is that the rules governing classified information will impede their ability to respond to the memo’s accusations when it becomes public.
The president told reporters in the Oval Office, “I think it’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country. . . . A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.”
The FBI and the Justice Department had lobbied strenuously against the memo’s release. In a statement Wednesday, the FBI had said it was “gravely concerned” that key facts were missing from the memo, which, it said, left an inaccurate impression of how the agency conducted surveillance under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Friday morning, the president tweeted in anticipation of the memo’s release, saying: “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.” He added: “Rank & File are great people!”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted in response, “No, Mr. President it’s worse than that. The country’s top elected leader has agreed to selectively and misleadingly release classified info to attack the FBI — that’s what would have been unthinkable a short time ago.”
The memo has been the subject of intense debate in Congress, but the fight ratcheted up this week when the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to make the document public under a process that gives the president up to five days to block its release. The committee Republicans also voted not to release a Democratic rebuttal memo, saying they would allow that document to be made public in the future.
More from The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — House Republicans released a previously secret memo on Friday in which they accuse senior officials at the F.B.I. and Justice Department of bias in the early stages of the Russia investigation.
The House Intelligence Committee made the memo public after a week of pleading from senior national security officials not to disclose the classified details, reading it aloud on a conference call with reporters after President Trump declassified the memo.
“A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that,” Mr. Trump said on Friday.
The memo alleges that senior government officials favored Democrats over Republicans and accuses federal law enforcement officials of abusing their authorities when they sought permission to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
Democrats say it is a Republican attempt to push a narrative that would undercut the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Trump said top officials and investigators at the F.B.I. and Justice Department have “politicized the sacred investigative process.”
The early-morning Twitter post reinforced reports that Mr. Trump, in allowing the Republican memo to be released, is seeking to clean house in the upper ranks of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department, even at the risk of losing his own F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray. Earlier this week, The F.B.I. made an unusual public plea not to release the document, which could reveal classified sources and methods. Mr. Trump declassified the memo without requesting any redactions.
Mr. Trump had an opportunity to block the memo, which his own top national security officials have requested because of national security concerns. The document was written by aides to Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has been an avid supporter of Mr. Trump.
In response to Mr. Trump’s Twitter post on Friday, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said it is unthinkable that the top elected official in the United States would release classified information to attack the F.B.I.\
The memorandum focuses on the process that was used to obtain a FISA warrant to monitor the communications with foreign sources of Carter Page, who served as a volunteer adviser to the Trump campaign until September 2016 and has been known to have had contacts with parties connected to the Russian government throughout 2016. The FISA warrant itself was not sought until October 2016, within about two weeks of the Presidential election and several months after the F.B.I. had opened its investigation into Russian interference in the election and contacts between Trump campaign officials and people with ties to the Russian government. As the memorandum admits in its closing paragraphs, that investigation was opened in no small part not because of any of Page’s activities but because of a conversation that George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign official who has already pled guilty of lying to the F.B.I. and is a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation. had with an Australian government official who then passed along his concerns to the Bureau. To that extent, it seems clear that any effort by President Trump or his supporters to attempt to use this memorandum or its findings against the Mueller investigation would seem to be a complete non-starter. Even if all of the allegations of the memo are taken as true and completely supported by the underlying and still-classified FISA warrant, they do nothing to call that investigation into question except perhaps in the minds of those who are already opposed to it and seeking to undermine it.
The main focus of the memo, then, centers on the FISA warrant application against Page, which the memorandum claims was based on a dossier put together by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent in Russia who had been a long-time consultant for the F.B.I. That dossier, the memorandum claims, was ultimately paid for by an organization called Fusion GPS which was funded by the Democratic National Committee and perhaps in part by Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign. What the application does not reveal, though, is the fact that Fusion GPS also received funds related to the preparation of the Steele Dossier from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website that was opposed to Trump during the race for the Republican nomination. The memo claims that the Bureau did not disclose these facts to the FISA Court when they applied for the warrant and alleged that the only other evidence that they offered in support of their probable cause argument for the warrant was a Yahoo News report that itself was based on the Steele Dossier. All of this is apparently meant to undermine the veracity of the Justice Department officials connected to obtaining the warrant, including the current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who is heading up the Russia investigation since Attorney General Jeff Session has recused himself from involvement in the investigation.
Having read the memo, it seems fairly clear that there is far less to the information that it contains than what has been hyped by Republicans on Capitol Hill, President Trump, and his supporters. For example, the Nunes Memo says that former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said that the warrant would not have been sought without the information in the Steele dossier. Importantly, though, this part of the is based on a second-hand statement of what McCabe said It does not say that the warrant would not have been obtained without the Steele dossier, nor does it discuss at all any other information that was provided to the FISA Court at the time of the initial warrant application or on the three occasions that it was renewed with the Court’s approval. This is important because the crucial question is whether the Court had probable cause to grant the warrant to surveil Page, and the Nunes memo does not answer this question. All we know is that the Steele dossier was used in the warrant application, that its links to Fusion GPS, the DNC, or the Washington Free Beacon were not disclosed to the Court despite the fact that some officials in the Bureau were alleged aware of that. We don’t know, and the memo does not tell us, is what else was in the warrant application and whether they independently support the FISA Court’s finding of probable cause for the surveillance of Carter Page. Finally, nothing in the memorandum even comes close to alleging, much less proving illegal or unethical action on the part of either the F.B.I. or the FISA Court in connection with the investigation.
Given all of this, it seems clear to me that this memorandum amounts in the end to much ado about nothing. Those people who are already inclined to believe that the investigation into Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russian officials will cite it as further evidence for their already pre-made conclusion that the investigation is based on nothing and that it is, to use Trump’s term, “Fake News.” As far as the investigation actually goes through, there’s really nothing in the memo that calls that investigation into question or otherwise. We will get more of an idea of the impact of the memo as the days go by, but as things stand right now this entire Nunes memo controversy seems to me to be far less substantial than what the President and Republicans have been claiming. The crucial questions regarding the FISA warrant against Page cannot be answered based on the memorandum itself, for example, and that will only happen if and when the warrant application itself and the memorandum prepared in rebuttal by the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are released. Based on this memorandum alone, though, it’s clear that the only people who will find anything in this memorandum significant are the ones who have already joined in with the President’s assertion that the Russia investigation is nothing but a witch hunt.
Here’s the memorandum itself: