The long-awaited memo, written by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee and released by the White House Friday, is more interesting for what it leaves out than for what it contains.
Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California, created the four-page memo outlining some previously classified information about how the FBI obtained a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The FBI’s use of a controversial dossier funded by Trump’s political components in their 2016 application to surveil Page proves the special counsel’s investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia is tainted with liberal bias, Republicans say.
But there is a lot the memo is missing.
The memo doesn’t mention that the FBI was surveilling Page starting in 2014 before the controversial dossier even existed. In 2013, the FBI overheard a Russian spy tell another Russian spy that Page wanted to work with them. Page became the subject of a surveillance warrant starting in 2014, according to CNN. The memo leaves out any context about FBI surveillance of Page prior to 2016, two years later.
The memo does not say which Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges approved the FBI’s request to surveil Page, essential figures in the alleged conspiracy. If the point of the memo is to unveil anti-Trump bias taking place in the federal intelligence community, why not name the judges?
“Alleging a concerted conspiracy by the FBI/DOJ in obtaining the Page FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] necessarily implicates the judge who approved it, and suggests they are incompetent (at best) or corrupt (at worst),” former FBI agent Asha Rangappa wrote for Just Security.
The memo also leaves out a complete list of the other evidence that the FISA court judges have relied on since 2016 when making decisions to grant the FBI permission to continue surveilling Page outside of the dossier. Judges are supposed to only grant extensions to surveillance requests if the surveillance is yielding useful information in the investigation. The memo does not include all of the useful information that led to at least four renewals.
Most importantly, the memo does not include primary sources. Republicans cite two main sources: the Department of Justice application to a FISA judge to surveil Page in October 2016, and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017. The memo only includes the Republicans’ characterization of these documents.
Then there’s Nunes’s own history of trying to undermine Mueller’s investigation.
In March of last year Nunes held an impromptu news conference claiming he had evidence that federal intelligence agencies had illegally spied on the Trump campaign, after White House aides provided him with classified intelligence documents. In April Nunes recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into collusion between Trump and Russia due to an ethics complaint about his public disclosure of classified information. He blamed “leftwing activist groups” for the situation. Republicans and Democrats who reviewed the intel documents Nunes had say there was nothing to them.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee opposed the Republicans’ decision to release the memo to the public. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the committee, said called it a mischaracterization of classified documents.
"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," he said.
Schiff and the other Democrats on the committee accuse Nunes of cherry-picking facts to build a case that the FBI and DOJ abused their power in surveilling Page. They’ve prepared a memo of their own that they say includes a lot of those facts that the Republican memo is missing. Republicans on the committee voted to deny the Democratic memo from being released.
Cover: Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, walks away from a meeting with House GOP members, on Capitol Hill January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)