Editors’ Note: This is the first of a two-part series based on an exclusive interview on Liberty Nation Radio with one of the nation’s brightest and most incisive journalists, Victor Davis Hanson, writer for National Review and many other publications.
Between all the FISA abuse memos in the news these days – Nunes from the House, Grassley-Graham from the Senate, and Adam Schiff still to come – even those who study politics for a living must have trouble sorting it all out – competing and opposite narratives, both steeped in partisanship and contemptuous of the other side.
How egregious was the method used by Obama officials to justify surveillance of a minor figure in the Trump presidential campaign? Were felonies committed? Can the Democrats adequately defend the actions of FBI and Justice Department higher-ups who sought the authority to conduct surveillance? We sought answers in an exclusive interview on Liberty Nation Radio with a preeminent journalist and author who has followed and written extensively about this story, the great Victor Davis Hanson, who currently writes for National Review and several other publications.
Tim Donner: Let’s start with your piece this week, which so effectively and exhaustively explains the significance of the memo from House Intel Chair Devin Nunes. Your piece is entitled FISAgate Boomerangs. You write that “Progressives and Democrats warned that it would cause havoc throughout the intelligence agencies, but when it became clear no such damage had occurred, the response was suddenly re-calibrated from the memo being radioactive, to a nothing burger.” So, which is it, and how does the Grassley memo out of the Senate Judiciary Committee change the equation, if at all?
Victor Davis Hanson: Well, there were two complaints on the eve of the release of the Nunes memo. The first was that it was reckless, and would expose methods and means of the intelligence agency, and therefore it shouldn’t be released. When it was released, and that did not … As Devin Nunes predicted … That did not prove to be true, then there was 180-degree of about-face on the side of the left. They said simply, “Well, it’s irrelevant.” So, it went from being a catastrophe and a threat to the nation … An existential threat to the nation … To being just irrelevant.
The second thing was that there were a number of allegations by the left, that doubted the veracity of the Nunes memo. And they said, for example, that the FBI did inform the FISA courts about the dubious nature of the dossier, and that there was no evidence, as Nunes and Gowdy and the staff had alleged, that the dossier was the only source of FISA support, as deduced by the FBI. So then we got the Grassley memo a little later.
The funny thing about that is it had far more detail than the Nunes memo did. And what it proved was that, far from not having the information, Nunes was very careful not to offend the left by not putting Ways and Means, but honestly reflecting those Ways and Means. Grassley and Graham were emboldened, and given the point of the controversy it had reached, they said, “You know what? We’re going to offer a version, and then later even a less redacted version.”
And what did we find out? We found out it was worse than even the Nunes memo had conceived because it’s very clear that the FISA document request was based only on the Steele dossier. Nobody has ever used any other support except news accounts that came from leaks by Christopher Steele.
Then even more disturbing, it looks like the FBI flat-out lied to the FISA court by saying that the news accounts that supported the dossier were not derivative from the dossier when they knew that they were. And finally, they said that Christopher Steele was still a reliable witness, even though they didn’t tell the court they … On the second request, they’d already fired him for leaking to a news agency.
So, it’s pretty bad, and it sets up the question. On the left, I think their answer is, “So what? What are you gonna do about it? You can’t do anything about it, because you already have a special prosecutor, and he’s going after a nonexistent criminal collusion. So, what are you gonna do about it?” And so now the shoe is on … I mean, the ball is on the conservative court. They’re gonna have to take up that challenge, and have an investigator look at these.
Tim Donner: You discuss Carter Page, a minor Trump campaign volunteer, in the subject of the FISA warrants in question, and how the intelligence agencies were never able to bring charges against him, even though they tried all the way back to 2014. It appears he even cooperated with American intelligence in gathering information against the Russians. Why would the FBI and DOJ suddenly, in 2016, believe that mention of Page’s name in an unverified opposition research dossier warranted four FISA warrants to find wrongdoing? What’s the answer?
V.D. Hanson: Well, two things happened that changed his status. You’re quite right that for three years, he was considered sort of as a patsy, a guy who had … He’s a nice guy, but he had dreams of grandeur, of doing business in Russia. The FBI came to him and probably surveilled him. Found that he had done nothing wrong, and then said, “You know what? Maybe you could be a useful informant.” And they knew all about him, and they thought he was a minor and somewhat valuable informant, but his patriotism was never questioned.
Then, two things happened. He volunteered for the Trump campaign. He’s never talked to Donald Trump. He’s never emailed Donald Trump. He’s never phoned Donald Trump. He’s never met Donald Trump. He’s a very minor official. So, that was number one.
Number two was, Christopher Steele, who knew about him because of his own contacts with the FBI, found him as a useful conduit to put into his dossier, and so did the Russians. The Russians knew about him, and they called him a quote, unquote, “idiot.” So in their way, a perverse way of thinking, they got all the most fantastic fantasies they could, attached it to the Page name, stuck it into Christopher Steele’s research. And Christopher Steele regurgitated it, and suddenly the FBI had a mechanism to reverse target people.
So, what the FBI did … On four occasions, they went to a FISA court. They didn’t tell them they really knew Carter Page. They didn’t tell them that he had been an informant for them, and they didn’t tell them that their document came from Hillary Clinton, and was paid for. And they didn’t tell them they probably reimbursed Christopher Steele’s expenses in going to Russia. They used this Carter Page, inflated his importance. And therefore, they were able to surveil him, and Russians that he had talked to, and thereby almost a whole web of people whose data and transcripts they could get. And then later, when they interviewed them … In the case of Mike Flynn, without a lawyer … They could collate the surveillance techs to what their oral testimonies were and find discrepancies, and charge them with making false statements.
In the second part of this series tomorrow, Victor Davis Hanson evaluates the competing claims of Democrats who seek to minimize the political damage from the FISAgate scandal.