House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes tried his best to assist President Donald Trump by concocting and Friday releasing a memo that sought to sabotage the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump’s efforts to disrupt that investigation.
After a huge buildup, a scant memo of less than four pages makes the sweeping allegation that Christopher Steele’s dossier was the basis for obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court to conduct surveillance on suspected Russian agent Carter Page. The document turns out to be decidedly underwhelming and at times baffling.
The memo acknowledges that the FISA warrant was extended multiple times. Nunes finds fault in the application because allegedly the court was not told that Fusion GPS, which commissioned Steele at one point, was paid by an attorney of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Without proof, it claims he was hired to find disparaging evidence on Trump (Fusion GPS’ founder disputed this under oath) and that he was an FBI source. It claims, without support, that Steele was fired as a source for leaking some of his findings to the press.
It also asserts confusingly that the warrant contained information about George Papadopoulos but there was no evidence of cooperation between him and Page. A statement released by ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff and other House Intelligence Committee Democrats suggests there is a connection, but Nunes chose to leave that out. In any event, the memo proves something that surely does not help Nunes’ conspiracy theory: namely that the FBI was first alerted by information from Papadopoulos about possible election interference, not from the dossier.
As an afterthought, Nunes then throws in reference to text-message exchanges between FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. It’s not clear why that matters or what it has to do with the special counsel’s investigation. What is interesting is that an initial application and three extensions were all approved by the FISA court.
We know that other materials included with the dossier to obtain the warrant were left out of Nunes’ account, and that a rebuttal from Democrats has been suppressed. There is plenty else left out:
▪ There is no explanation that FISA courts set a high bar for issuance of warrants and generally require multiple pieces of evidence.
▪ There is no acknowledgment that Steele was a respected former MI6 agent or that some of his findings were confirmed by evidence provided from other sources.
▪ There is no recognition the intelligence community already had Page on its radar screen as early as 2013.
▪ There is no indication Steele knew who had funded the dossier (which was begun for a right-leaning publication and later financed by an associate of Hillary Clinton).
▪ There is no proof Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein thought the dossier was unreliable.
▪ There is no proof anything in the dossier is false.
▪ There is no proof that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or FBI Director Christopher A. Wray (whom Trump hired) had anything to do with the application for the warrant or that it affected their work. Both were hired the year after the initial FISA warrant request.
▪ There is no reason spelled out why Rosenstein, whom Trump later appointed, would have intentionally misled the court.
In short, other than confirming that Nunes and Trump are out to discredit the intelligence community and to thereby impede the investigation, I cannot for the life of me figure out what this proves. The media, if forthright, will explain that to Americans who must by this time be very, very confused as to why Nunes and Trump have rejected the advice of top officials who said the memo compromises classified information.
This appears to be the second time that Trump has handed the Russians classified material (the first in the Oval Office with Russian officials). If Trump is not a Russian agent, he surely is acting as effectively as one.