White House Releases Declassified Memo Alleging Bias in FBI Surveillance of Trump Campaign Staffer (UPDATE: Dem Memo Details Leaked)

Nunes report claims Democratic Party-origins of Steele dossier concealed from court.


Carter Page
Sergei Karpukhin/REUTERS/Newscom

This morning the White House cleared House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to release "The Memo," a document that contends that officials within the Department of Justice deliberately concealed the politically motivated origins of the information behind its surveillance of a Donald Trump advisor during the presidential election.

The highlights:

  • The memo says that FBI officials knew that the infamous "Steele dossier" used to get permission by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to snoop on adviser Carter Page had been partly funded through a research firm (Fusion GPS) connected to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign. They concealed this information from the court.
  • The memo says that some additional information included in the warrant application used to corroborate the "Steele dossier" also actually came from Steele himself that Steele leaked to Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News.
  • Steele was in regular contact with Bruce Ohr, a top DOJ official who really, really didn't want Trump to be elected and said so. The memo claims Ohr's wife assisted in the Trump opposition research used by Fusion GPS.
  • Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (who announced his resignation earlier in the week) told the Intelligence Committee in December that a surveillance warrant would not have been sought without the Steele dossier.

(The full response from the White House and the memo will be embedded below the fold.)

Remember that this is one party's description of what happened with the warrant. The underlying intelligence contained in the warrant application and the warrant itself has not been released.

It's also worth the memo's claims in context. Carter Page's ties to Russia were well-known by intelligence officials before he was ever involved with Trump's campaign. And one of the surveillance requests submitted to the court happened in October, after Page's contacts with Russian officials had publicly reported and he stepped down from the campaign. And courts have typically ruled that it's not necessarily disqualifying if the evidence used for a warrant comes from biased sources.

Arugably, what's been exposed here is an investigation of Page, not surveillance of the Trump campaign itself or even allegations that Trump himself did anything wrong. This, interestingly enough, is exactly what FBI Director James Comey even told Trump before eventually getting fired.

More is going to play out from this, but from my perspective so far, I don't see a smoking gun in any particular direction. This memo doesn't seem to provide any coherent evidence that this investigation of Page was actually a plot to get at Trump. And neither does any of this suggest that Trump himself was engaged in any wrongdoing.

Read the memo for yourself below, and response from ranking Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff:

FISAWarrant by Scott Shackford on Scribd

Schiff responds:

UPDATE: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended the release of the memo and said it detailed possible violations of the civil liberties of Americans. It's worth noting that Ryan just last month voted to renew and expand the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments to secretly snoop on American citizens.

But, hey, he's also calling for the release of the Democrats' own memo.

UPDATE II: The New York Times has been told some of the details of the Democratic countermemo that has not yet been released. According to their report, the surveillance court was informed that there were political motivations behind the Steele Dossier and that McCabe didn't say that the dossier's contents were the only reason for the warrant renewal request:

[A] Democratic memo written to rebut the Republican document says that the F.B.I. was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say. The F.B.I. told the court that the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated, although the agency did not specifically identify the information as financed by Democrats, according to two people familiar with the Democratic memo.

Read their coverage here.