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The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance scandal returned to center stage Saturday as the much-anticipated minority memo was finally released. Ever since the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) released its memo outlining alleged FBI abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), this counter-memo has been eagerly awaited. It was touted by Representative Adam Schiff as a setting straight of the record; a supposed vindication of the FBI and a document that would expose the dishonesty of Schiff’s committee counterpart, Republican Devin Nunes.
The memo did not live up to its billing. It was petulant, vague and – in one or two cases – simply inaccurate. Schiff had repeatedly claimed that his memo would reveal, conclusively, that Nunes had distorted the facts about how the FBI sought a FISA order to surveil Carter Page, who briefly served the Trump campaign as a volunteer foreign policy advisor. It provided no such conclusive evidence, however. If the Nunes memo was, as Democrats claimed, a cherry-picking of the available facts, then the Schiff memo was merely a cherry-picking of different facts.
The original HPSCI memo implied that the FBI had relied heavily on a ‘dossier’ of opposition research compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele for its FISA application. This dossier – paid for by the Clinton campaign – contained compromising information on then-candidate Donald Trump. It is not clear that any of that information could be corroborated. Certainly, the FBI has admitted that its agents had not verified the claims made in the dossier. A FISA application must, by law, not contain uncorroborated evidence. All intelligence attached to such an application must be verified.
The minority memo states that the FBI did not rely on the Steele dossier for its FISA application. It lays out no evidence to support this claim. Apparently, the memo itself should be considered the unquestionable source of truth; if the memo says a thing is so, then it is so. Schiff, it seems, wants everyone to assume that his memo is the evidence that Nunes did not tell the whole truth.
Schiff Gets Economical With the Truth
The memo also contains the claim that, contrary to what the original Intelligence Committee memo described, the Justice Department did fully apprise the court of Steele’s relationship with the FBI and the political motives behind his work gathering intelligence on Trump. In this area, it is factually inaccurate – either by incompetence or by design. On page six, the memo states:
“The Majority cites no evidence that the FBI, prior to filing its initial October 21, 2016 application, actually knew or should have known of any allegedly inappropriate media contacts by Steele…
“DOJ informed the Court in its renewals [of the FISA order] that the FBI acted promptly to terminate Steele after learning from him (after DOJ filed the first warrant application) that he had discussed his work with a media outlet in late October.”
There is a lie buried in this excerpt. Uncovering its source without seeing the full FISA application is not so easy. Either Steele lied to the FBI, the FBI lied to the DOJ, the DOJ lied to the court or Schiff is lying in his memo. It has been established – and is now widely known – that Steele and Fusion GPS, the Washington-based research firm that hired him on behalf of the Clinton campaign, met with and briefed several media organizations in September of 2016 – before the original FISA application was submitted. The fact that the DOJ informed the court “in its renewals” that Steele has been terminated over his media indiscretions is irrelevant. This is information that absolutely should have been included in the original application.
Sorry Rep. Schiff, But Those FBI Texts Are Still Damning
Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the senior FBI officials who exchanged text messages expressing their hatred of Trump, are also mentioned in the minority memo. Once again, the known facts are misrepresented. Although it is still not known what these two had in mind when they discussed an “insurance policy” in the event that Trump won the election, their texts were loaded with political bias. The minority memo has deliberately mischaracterized that bias, however, and attempted to marginalize its relevance:
“In demonizing both career professionals, the Majority accuses them of “orchestrating leaks to the media” – a serious charge; omits inconvenient text messages, in which they critiqued a wide range of other officials and candidates from both parties…”
This writer can confirm that the text messages are mischaracterized here – having read every one of them. Strzok and Page hated Trump, hated his supporters, loathed people who vote Republican and expressed their scorn for numerous politicians – all of them Republicans, with the one exception of Bernie Sanders. It was clear that their dislike of Sanders – evident in messages exchanged during the Democratic primaries – was based on their fear that he would derail Clinton’s quest for her party’s nomination.
The Whole Story is Still Being Hidden
As the dust settles, it is clear that the minority memo has changed nothing. It is still a fact that the DOJ acquired a FISA order for the FBI based on unverified intelligence. It is still a fact that, in the original application, the court was not informed that one of the sources of that intelligence, Steele, had already disclosed some of that same information to the media. It is still a fact that the DOJ and FBI are withholding, from Congress and from the American people, the whole story of why they went so hard after a character as insignificant as Carter Page. Why apply for a FISA order just weeks before an election in order to surveil a man who had “concerned” the Bureau for three years?
Was Page the real target of the surveillance operation or was he merely the pretext for casting a net that might sweep up other Trump associates? Perhaps not; perhaps the FBI simply wanted to go after someone who had a connection to the Trump campaign, with the ultimate motive of achieving exactly what the Russians were trying to achieve; instability, distrust and the delegitimization of a United States president.