House Republicans have released a disputed memo that was prepared by House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, which alleges FBI abuses of its surveillance authority. President Donald Trump approved of the release, having tweeted on Friday that the FBI and Justice Department “top leadership” had politicized investigations in favor of “Democrats and against Republicans.”
Republicans and some advocacy groups that contend that the four-page memo shows that the Obama administration had used the uncorroborated dossier, gathered by British spy Christopher Steele for an opposition research firm hired by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, to obtain a warrant from the secret Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court to conduct surveillance on candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign personnel. The memo alleges that then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the committee that no warrant would have been sought to snoop on Trump campaign aide Carter Page without the Steele dossier on Trump.
According to the Republican memo, former FBI Director James Comey (who President Trump fired in January 2017), former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe (whose departure was announced on Monday, former acting-Attorney General Sally Yates, and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were all required to sign off on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant application before it was reviewed and approved.
- “As required by statute (50 U.S.C.), a FISA order on an American citizen must be renewed by the ISC every 90 days and each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause. Then-Director James Comey signed three FISA applications in question on behalf of the FBI, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Sally Yates, then-Acting DAG Dana Boente, and DAG Rod Rosenstein each signed one or more FISA applications.”
FBI Director Chris Wray has sent a rally-the-troops letter to FBI employees after today's Memo madness... pic.twitter.com/k2COdEaiCv— Anthony Zurcher (@awzurcher) February 2, 2018
In an interview on CNN, Florida Republican congressman Matt Gaetz spelled out a GOP version of events concerning how the Steele memo became part of the Obama administration’s case to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant before the FISA court: “The Democratic Party paid the Perkins Law Firm. The Perkins Law Firm paid Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele and Nellie Ohr to write the dossier and the Nellie Ohr's husband, Bruce Ohr, valeted that document into the Justice Department. It was so unverifiable that they had to use a Yahoo! News article before a FISA court to validate it. That Yahoo! News article was planted by Christopher Steele, the very author of the dossier.”
Here it is. The FBI took an unverified political dossier and used it to get a secret warrant to spy on an American citizen and political opponents.— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) February 2, 2018
And they *didn't* tell the FISA judge that the DNC and Clinton campaign had paid for that dossier. https://t.co/qgOKd8lJd5
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) stated this week that he had no objection to the release of the memo. But following the memo’s release, Republican comment has been muted. For example, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said through a spokesperson that he has no comment as of now. According to CNN, Burr’s spokesperson said, “The [Senate Intelligence] Committee's own investigation remains ongoing." On Thursday, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) -- the No. 3 Senate Republican -- cautioned the House to allow Burr to see the memo before its release.
On Friday morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Fox News that he had not seen the memo, but did not oppose its release.
A complete presentation of facts didn't happen
Speaker Ryan released a statement saying that the memo helps to "provide greater transparency." In a statement, he said in reference to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, "Unlike most judicial proceedings, the FISA system depends not on an adversarial process, but instead on the government providing a complete presentation of the facts and circumstances underlying its warrant applications." He added, "It is clear from this memo that didn't happen in this case, and as a consequence an American's civil liberties may have been violated."
Ryan also supports the Democrats who wish to publish a memo of their own, which is expected to refute the Republicans’ findings. He stated, "I reiterate my support for the similar release of the minority's memo once it is properly scrubbed of all intelligence sources and methods." Ryan said in a statement he was "glad" the memo helps "provide greater transparency." About the secret FISA court, Ryan stated, "Unlike most judicial proceedings, the FISA system depends not on an adversarial process, but instead on the government providing a complete presentation of the facts and circumstances underlying its warrant applications." He added, "It is clear from this memo that didn't happen in this case, and as a consequence an American's civil liberties may have been violated."
It is important for the American public to know if the dossier was paid for by another candidate, used in court pleadings, vetted before it was used, vetted after it was used, and whether all relevant facts were shared with the tribunal approving of the FISA application.— Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) February 2, 2018
Rep. Trey Gowdy, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the public should know how the Steele dossier was created. On Twitter, Gowdy wrote, “It is important for the American public to know if the dossier was paid for by another candidate, used in court pleadings, vetted before it was used, vetted after it was used, and whether all relevant facts were shared with the tribunal approving of the FISA application.” He added that he continues to have confidence in the majority of those serving the FBI and DOJ. Also, he wrote that he remains “100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not -- in any way -- discredit his investigation."
Trump: Obama administration spied on Trump Team
In tweet on Friday morning, President Donald Trump has excoriated those investigators at the FBI and DOJ who “politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.” He later told media at the White House that those responsible should be “ashamed.” He also tweeted that Hillary Clinton and Democrats are trying to “hide the fact that they gave money to [opposition research firm] Fusion GPS” to be used by the Obama administration to “convince a court misleadingly, by all accounts, to spy on the Trump Team.”
The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2018
“You had Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party try to hide the fact that they gave money to GPS Fusion to create a Dossier which was used by their allies in the Obama Administration to convince a Court misleadingly, by all accounts, to spy on the Trump Team.” Tom Fitton, JW— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2018
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was one of the first in Congress to advocate for the release of the Republican memo, and responded to questions from CNN correspondent Jake Tapper on Friday. Tapper asked Gaetz why the fact that Trump aide Carter Page, who had been under FBI surveillance in 2013-14, was under surveillance in 2016 has tainted the FBI investigation. Gaetz said that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “said that the [Steele] dossier was absolutely essential, and but for the dossier, there would have been no FISA warrant to spy on Americans.”
Gaetz said that FISA warrants must be renewed and that he finds it particularly troubling that the Steele dossier may have been used in the context of the renewals. “Andrew McCabe --not Republicans,” said Gaetz, “did say but for the dossier, that warrant would not have been issued and certainly wouldn't have reauthorized."
Later in the interview, Tapper said that his sources claim that the Steele dossier would not have been presented to a FISA court without corroboration. Gaetz responded that the corroboration, according to the Republican memo, was an article planted in Yahoo! News by British agent Christopher Steele himself, thus becoming “a factual, legal tautology.”
Tapper asked, “How do you know that? Have you seen the FISA warrant?” When Gaetz answered, “That's what's in the memo. We should [see it], honestly,” Tapper responded, “I'm not talking about the partisan memo.” Gaetz said, “These are statements of facts. You should not characterize it that way. These are verifiable facts. The letter I sent to Devin Nunes, signed by 60 of my colleagues calls not only for the release of the memo, but for the actual supporting documentation. I think it would be appropriate to redact sources and methods and dig further into how this happened. I think that will help us forge bipartisan consensus to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.”
Democrats throw shade on GOP memo
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the memo’s release was "reckless and demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth." On Twitter, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) stated, "Law enforcement opposes this. The intelligence community opposes this. Even many Republicans oppose this. This is dangerous territory, it disrespects law enforcement, and it's an alarming partisan attack on efforts to investigate hostile foreign interference in our democracy."
Led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, Democrats denounced the release of the Republican memo. Their statement said in part: “Chairman Nunes’ decision, supported by House Speaker Ryan and Republican Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to publicly release misleading allegations against the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation is a shameful effort to discredit these institutions, undermine the Special Counsel’s ongoing investigation, and undercut congressional probes. Furthermore, their refusal to allow release of a comprehensive response memorandum prepared by Committee Democrats is a transparent effort to suppress the full truth.”
Legal scholar agrees with Gaetz
Lifelong Democrat and noted legal scholar Alan Dershowitz wrote a column at Fox News reiterating that he believes that bipartisan commission should be designated to investigate claims of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He wrote, "The Republican memo standing alone raises some serious questions about the process by which the warrants were obtained from the FISA court. The Democratic memo, if it is forthcoming, may purport to answer some of those questions. But it will never be able to answer them definitely without an objective assessment of the actual FISA application itself."