WASHINGTON — The memo prepared by staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was released today, alleging as expected that the FBI withheld information from the FISA court and going hard after the British intelligence operative who crafted a controversial dossier.
A White House letter topping the document clarified that the memo “reflects the judgments of its congressional authors” and said President Trump “understands that oversight concerning matters related to the Memorandum may be continuing.”
The memo notes that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was the subject of multiple approved Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants from the FBI and Department of Justice; new probable cause must be proven at each renewal. Former FBI Director James Comey signed off on three warrants and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one, the memo says, while at the DOJ then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “each signed one or more” applications. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been recused from the Russia investigation since March 2.
The memo does not go into detail about why Page was being monitored. Page, who has admitted to traveling to Russia during the presidential campaign but said it was for personal reasons, met with Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft during his Trump campaign tenure, according to the Steele dossier.
Renewal by the FISA court, the memo states, “is necessarily dependent on the government’s production to the court of all material and relevant facts,” and “should include information potentially favorable to the target of the FISA application.”
“In the case of Carter Page, the government had at least four independent opportunities before the FISC to accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts,” the memo alleges. “However, our findings indicate that, as described below, material and relevant information was omitted.”
The memo states that the Democratic National Committee “paid over $160,000” to former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, referred to as “a longtime FBI source,” via law firm Perkins Coie and research firm GPS “to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.” The memo does not note that the dossier project was started by the Washington Free Beacon as a “never Trump” effort during the GOP primary.
The October 2016 FISA application to the court, as well “any of the renewals,” the memo continues, didn’t “disclose or reference the role of the DNC” or “any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.” The first FISA application doesn’t explicitly say Steele was working for Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson or say “the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.”
Simpson told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony in November that Steele told him in summer 2016 he felt had a national security obligation, considering the close intelligence relationship between the U.S. and Britain, to report his findings to the FBI. Simpson’s telling of what led Steele to the FBI was not included in the Nunes memo.
The Page FISA application “extensively” cited from a September article by Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, which said in part that Page “came to the attention of officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow several years ago when he showed up in the Russian capital during several business trips and made provocative public comments critical of U.S. policy and sympathetic to Putin.”
Two weeks before the Republican National Convention, the Isikoff piece continues, Page “met with Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin associate and former Russian deputy prime minister who is now the executive chairman of Rosneft, Russian’s leading oil company” — Sechin was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2014 — and the oil boss “raised the issue of the lifting of sanctions with Page.”
The memo says Steele “leaked” to Yahoo News and the FISA application left that out, and adds that 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 in an October 30, 2016, Mother Jones article by David Corn.” That article was titled, “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.”
The memo asserts the FBI should have cut off Steele in September 2016, before the FISA application a month later, for leaking to Yahoo News.
Steele told then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in September 2016, the memo alleges, that the former spy “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” The memo adds that the FISA applications left out “clear evidence of Steele’s bias … recorded by Ohr” in the conversation a few months after Steele told Simpson potential evidence of Trump campaign wrongdoing led him to disclose his investigation’s findings to the FBI. Ohr’s wife, the Nunes staff memo adds, worked for Fusion GPS at the time, and “Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research.” The memo says that was not included in the FISA application.
The head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, Assistant Director Bill Priestap, said corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its “infancy” when the first FISA application was field against Page, the memo continues.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that some of the details in the Steele dossier have been corroborated as true, while other details have not been corroborated or disproven. “We had some concerns about it from the standpoint of its sourcing which we couldn’t corroborate,” he told CNN this past October. “But at the same time, some of the substantive content, not all of it, but some of the substantive content of the dossier, we were able to corroborate in our Intelligence Community assessment which from other sources in which we had very high confidence to it.”
Finally, the Nunes memo notes that the Page FISA application “mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos,” who pleaded guilty Oct. 5 to “lying to federal agents about the nature and timing of his contacts” with Russians, but the GOP staffers claim there is “no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos.” The memo goes on to mention Papadopoulos’ information to the FBI that preceded the original July 2016 Russia investigation led by former chief of the Counterespionage Section, Peter Strzok, and cited Strzok’s widely reported text messages with “a clear bias against Trump.”
The memo does not go into detail about other evidence not related to Steele submitted in the Page applications.
Nunes, a former Trump transition team member, said in a statement accompanying the release that his committee “has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.”
“Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another,” he added. “It is my hope that the committee’s actions will shine a light on this alarming series of events so we can make reforms that allow the American people to have full faith and confidence in their governing institutions.”
House Intelligence Democrats released a lengthy rebuttal statement in which they said the memo “mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information that few members of Congress have seen, and which Chairman Nunes himself chose not to review.”
“It fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA application and renewals, and ignores why and how the FBI initiated, and the Special Counsel has continued, its counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election interference and links to the Trump campaign. The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the president,” they added. “Tellingly, when asked whether the Republican staff who wrote the memo had coordinated its drafting with the White House, the chairman refused to answer.”
They added that FBI “had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant.” Page’s interactions with Russian intelligence operatives are included in the Democratic memo not yet approved for release by the Intel Committee, lawmakers said.
The memo “ignores the inconvenient fact that the investigation did not begin with, or arise from Christopher Steele or the dossier, and that the investigation would persist on the basis of wholly independent evidence had Christopher Steele never entered the picture,” the Intel Dems continued.
“The majority suggests that the FBI failed to alert the court as to Mr. Steele’s potential political motivations or the political motivations of those who hired him, but this is not accurate,” they said. “The GOP memo also claims that a Yahoo News article was used to corroborate Steele, but this is not at all why the article was referenced. These are but a few of the serious mischaracterizations of the FISA application.”
Democrats will make a motion Monday to seek approval of the release of their memo.