Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released a memo that not only counters the one that Devin Nunes wrote but proves that the information contained in it was untrue.
At the beginning of February, Nunes released a memo alleging that the FBI had overstepped its boundaries in obtaining a FISA warrant against Trump campaign aide Carter Page, using information from Christopher Steele’s dossier, a target of Republican angst since its release before Trump’s inaugural. Although the FBI did not approve of its content, Donald Trump agreed to let the public read it anyway. Over the past several months, Republicans have attempted to discredit the dossier, mostly without success, but Nunes’ memo initially seemed like it might motivate Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, possibly leading to the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller. However, this decision backfired on him, since people knew better than to take its claims at face value, and the memo went over about as well as Geraldo Rivera’s opening of Al Capone’s vault.
Trump, who boasted that the Nunes memo “totally vindicated” him, tried to block the release of the Democrats’ memo, despite a bipartisan consensus from both parties on the committee to let people see it. After further review from law enforcement officials that redacted several parts of it, the memo came out yesterday and thoroughly annihilates Nunes’ botched hit job.
It alleges that the FISA Court, who consisted entirely of Republican-appointed judges (going all the way back to Saint Ronnie), only made “minimal use” of the evidence provided by the Steele dossier. This should come as no surprise; there had been ample reason to believe Page had been cultivated as a Russian asset prior to the Trump campaign. In fact, the FBI had recordings of conversations in 2015 between two Russian operatives discussing their efforts to recruit Page, with one of them saying, “I will feed him empty promises.” The FISA Court only looked at Steele’s evidence as back up for the warrant’s motivation, Page’s 2016 trip to Moscow. And, after they approved it, they received even more evidence that corroborated Steele’s reporting.
Nunes also claimed that the FBI had not told the FISA Court that the Democrats and the DNC paid for Steele’s research, in an attempt to stir up claims of “bias” within the Republican base. While it may have made for some angry speeches at CPAC this claim also has no basis in reality. The FBI may not have told the court specifically that Democrats funded the dossier, but they did tell them that it had been commissioned by someone who wanted to discredit Trump.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on House Intelligence Committee, stated, “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,”
Page has called the memo a “smear campaign,” and Trump has not taken it well either, telling Fox News host Jeanne Piro, “A, lot of bad things happened on the other side — not on this side, but on the other side — and somebody [presumably Attorney General Sessions] should look at it, because what they did was really fraudulent.” But as of this writing, the claims made in the memo appear to hold water – at least, much more than those in Devin Nunes’ leaky bucket.
After all, when Fox News asked whether or not he had read the initial FISA warrant, Nunes claimed that he hadn’t.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.