The minority report from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) gets bogged down on minor matters that undermine its credibility on the major issues addressed.
The memo, for instance, paints Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official demoted after reports that he met with dossier compiler Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, as a “well respected” public servant done a “grave disservice” by Republicans. The memo finds the majority report guilty of “demonizing” the “career professionals” Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the FBI agent and FBI lawyer caught trashing Trump and conspiring to go easy on questioning Hillary Clinton in their text messages. The minority report characterizes their political chatter as bipartisan in its skewering of public officials but offers no evidence to support this claim.
In the cases of Ohr, Strzok, and Page, not only did Republicans find fault with their conduct but their bosses within the bureaucracy did, too. Ohr, whose wife worked on anti-Trump matters for Fusion GPS, received several demotions at Justice, Strzok lost his position with the special counsel’s office, and Page lost her spot with Mueller’s investigation as well. In each instance, their behavior left evidence of bias against the president.
These seem like poor cases for Democrats to plant their flag. Doing so illustrates the overall strategy of the memo. It seeks to challenge Republicans not on this point or that point but on all points, no matter how weak or strong.
Criticisms of more consequential aspects of the HPSCI majority’s memo similarly appear more geared to provide talking points to allies than to rebut the committee’s initial report.
For instance, the Democrats’ HPSCI memo cites the timeline of the investigation into Russian collusion as starting in late July and the bureau’s official receipt of the Steele “dossier” as coming in the middle of September as though to contradict the importance of the opposition research repackaged as an “intelligence dossier” in catalyzing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) warrants authorizing electronic surveillance on an American citizen. Given the numerous people, including Bruce Ohr, privy to Steele’s investigation prior to the Justice Department’s acknowledgment of receipt his opposition research, this timeline does not convince in that it leaves much out, such as who within the government knew of the contents of Steele’s investigation prior to its official delivery to the FBI. More importantly, the Justice Department first sought a warrant for electronic surveillance in October, more than a month after Steele allegedly delivered his “dossier.” That — the pursuit of the warrants following the receipt of the so-called dossier — seems the more salient timeline.
Elsewhere, the minority report insists that the Department of Justice presented “the likely political motivations of those who hired Steele” to the FISA court. How so? Did they inform the judge that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, through a series of intermediaries used to obscure the source of the funding, bankrolled Steele’s investigation? The Democrats do not maintain this, only making vague references to Steele’s “likely political motivations” presented to the court.
The memo released Saturday makes a big fuss of refuting the notion that the FBI paid Christopher Steele for his dossier. In reality, the extant media accounts consistently reference the FBI authorizing payment or expressing a willingness to subsidize Steele. None of the reports from major news organizations come out and say they actually gave him the money for the opposition research styled as an “intelligence dossier.” The minority report, rather than closing debate on this issue, reinvigorates it.
The Democrats’ memo concedes that the FBI authorized payment for Steele for the dossier and that the FBI paid Steele on a number of matters. But the memo maintains that the FBI “cancelled” payment to Steele regarding the so-called dossier. The memo holds that “Steele ultimately never received payment from the FBI for any ‘dossier’-related information.” The memo elsewhere holds that “the FBI never paid Steel for this reporting.”
Clearly, the FBI wanted to pay Steele, despite then-director James Comey later characterizing his information as “unverified.” Beyond this, Steele gathered his information at the behest of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Why did not the source of this whole enterprise tarnish it for the FBI? Why would they even consider turning the bureau into an arm of a partisan endeavor?
The tight language used in the minority report raises more questions than it answers. If the bureau did not pay Steele for “this reporting,” what reporting did it pay him for? What does it mean to “cancel” payment? Did the FBI pay him and then get the money back? Did the FBI pay him for the dossier and then relabel the payment as going for other services rendered? The Democrats’ memo does not say.
The HPSCI minority report on the Russia investigation characterizes the majority’s memo as “a transparent effort to undermine” the FBI, Justice Department, Congress, and special counsel’s office. Ultimately, the minority report undermines its own undermining of the underminers.