On Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released his memorandum in an attempt to rebut the Republican memorandum that HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) released on February 2.
As I wrote on February 5, the Nunes memo describes the FBI’s and the Department of Justice’s abuses of their law enforcement powers to spy on the Trump campaign and its advisors during and after the 2016 election.
The Schiff memo is cleverly written, making several assertions by which it attempts to confuse and misinform on the issues. It flails and fails in Schiff’s effort to discredit the principal findings of the Nunes memo.
The key points made by the Nunes memo are:
(1) that the FBI relied on the Steele dossier, a compilation of anti-Trump information that the FBI had not verified, and swore to its truth to obtain surveillance warrants on Carter Page, a one-time Trump campaign advisor; and
(2) that the FBI failed to inform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), from which the warrants were sought, that the Steele dossier was bought and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
The Schiff memo says that “DoJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page — but made only narrow use of the information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials.” It also says that “The FBI had an independent basis for investigating Page’s motivations and actions during the campaign, transition and following the inauguration.”
Whether that assertion is true is entirely irrelevant. The most important point is, as the Nunes memo reveals, that in December 2017 now-former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified before the HPSCI that no surveillance warrant against Page would have been sought from the FISC without the information contained in the “dossier” written by Christopher Steele, supposedly a former British spy, on behalf of the Fusion GPS company.
No Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant application. Period. That has to mean that whatever “independent basis” for investigating Page that the Schiff memo talks about was determined by the FBI inadequate to seek a warrant from the FISC.
The fact that the Steele dossier information was not independently verified by the FBI before FBI agents signed sworn affidavits to the FISC seeking surveillance warrants — and that information is still unverified — makes the affiants guilty of misleading the court at least, if not perjury.
The Schiff memo also tries to slide by the Nunes memo’s proofs that the FISC was never told that the Steele dossier was bought and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. In support of that point, the Schiff memo says that DoJ specifically disclosed to the FISC that Steele:
was approached by an identified US Person who indicated to Source #1 [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. Person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] ties to Russia. (The identified U.S. Person and Source #1 have a long-standing business relationship.) The identified U.S. Person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.
The footnotes to the Schiff memo — not the FBI’s warrant applications to the FISC — identifies the “U.S. Person” as Glenn Simpson, head of Fusion GPS and the “U.S.-based law firm” as Perkins Coie which paid Simpson about $160,000 — money received from the DNC and the Clinton campaign — to dig up dirt on Trump.
The fact — if it is a fact — that Glenn Simpson never advised Steele as to the motivation behind the research is laughable. Whether Steele was so advised or not, the FBI knew, as the Nunes memo said, that Steele “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” Steele obviously undertook the job of assembling his “dossier” on Trump in his mood of desperation to ensure Trump was never elected. Simpson never needed to tell him of Simpson’s purpose. It was the sine qua non of the dossier.
Those facts were evidently hidden from the FISC, just as the Nunes memo contends. Identifying Simpson only as a “U.S. Person” and Perkins-Coie only as a “U.S.-based law firm” conceals the motivation behind their actions.
The Schiff memo would have you believe that the FBI’s failure to inform the FISC of those key facts were irrelevant to the court’s decisions on whether to grant the four separate surveillance warrants against Carter Page. That, too, is risible. To equate the motivations of the DNC and the Clinton campaign to, for example, that of any news organization is nonsensical.
To add to that nonsense, the Schiff memo couches the failure of the FBI to identify the motivation of Steele and Fusion GPS in terms of FBI procedures on unmasking names. It says, “In fact, DOJ appropriately upheld its longstanding practice of protecting US citizen information by purposefully not ‘unmasking’ U.S. person and entity names, unless they were themselves the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.”
That nonsense is as pure as Ivory soap. By that contention, the Schiff memo intentionally confuses the obligation of the FBI to be truthful in swearing to affidavits in support of surveillance warrants with its obligation to conceal information obtained from U.S. persons and corporations in executing a FISA warrant.
Under FISA, in the course of executing a surveillance warrant on a person, the conversations of U.S. persons who aren’t the subject of the warrant result in the communications of the person not being surveilled are sometimes intercepted and recorded. In those instances, the identity of the U.S. person who is not a subject of the surveillance warrant is concealed — i.e., “masked” — in intelligence reports on the surveillance. That has absolutely nothing to do with the FBI’s obligation to tell the truth to the FISC in seeking a surveillance warrant.
The Schiff memo’s lack of credibility is complete.
The Schiff memo is very interesting because it goes a long way, far out of the way, in its efforts to defend former DoJ Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr and FBI agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, an FBI attorney who exchanged tens of thousands of campaign-related emails during her love affair with Strzok.
The Nunes memo says that Ohr communicated with Steele both before the FBI fired him as a source and afterward and that the FBI began interviewing Ohr in September 2016. It says that Steele admitted to Ohr that Steele was desperate to prevent Trump’s election and was “passionate” about Trump not becoming president.
The fact that the FBI was interviewing Ohr at that point means the FBI could not have had faith in Steele’s credibility from that time on. The fact that the FBI didn’t disclose Steele’s “passionate” political belief to the FISC destroys the credibility of the FBI’s warrant applications from the outset: the FBI never told the FISC about Steele’s strongly-held political motivation.
The Schiff memo says that Ohr informed the FBI — in late November 2016, not in his initial interviews on the subject the previous September — of his prior connections with Steele and his wife’s employment by Fusion GPS. (It contends that Ohr’s wife wasn’t connected to the Steele dossier. That’s something that should be investigated further by Nunes.)
The Schiff memo contends that the Nunes memo implies that the political biases of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were behind their possible involvement in leaks of classified information. It says they weren’t affiants on the surveillance warrant applications to the FISC. It doesn’t say that they had no part in preparing those applications and supporting affidavits and obviously doesn’t clear them of leaks.
The Schiff memo defenses of Ohr, Strzok and Page indicate a strong desire of the Democrats to protect them. They may be sources of information that Schiff and other HPSCI Democrats have been using to defend the indefensible actions of the FBI.
The redacted parts of the Schiff memo may be much more interesting than the parts that aren’t. On page 3, the Schiff memo talks about a number of other individuals linked to the Trump campaign. The number of them, and their identities, is redacted.
That could mean one of two things. First, that other members of the Trump campaign team — including Trump himself — were the subject of still undisclosed FBI surveillance warrants. Second, it may mean that those investigations were terminated or that they may — under the aegis of special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation — still be under way.
On January 4, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of that committee, sent a letter to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking them to begin a criminal investigation into the evidently false statements made by Christopher Steele to the FBI for possible prosecution under Title 18 U.S. Code Section 1001.
The Grassley-Graham letter is firm in its statements that the FBI informed the FISC of the Steele information based on his prior credibility as a source, i.e., credibility established before he was hired by the DNC and the Clinton campaign to compile dirt on Trump:
In short, it appears that the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associate of the opposing presidential candidate.
Both the Nunes memo and the Schiff memo were written before the release of the Grassley-Graham letter to the Department of Justice, dated January 4, which asks the Justice Department to investigate Steele for lying to the FBI.
As I wrote two weeks ago, the Grassley-Graham letter largely corroborates the Nunes memo because it reaches the same conclusion as Nunes did on the basis of examining the same facts as both the Nunes memo and the Schiff memo were based on.
The Grassley-Graham letter says that the bulk of the allegations against Carter Page were disclosed to the FBI by Steele and are outlined in the Steele dossier. “The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.”
After the Schiff memo and the Grassley-Graham letter we’re left right where we started with the Nunes memo. There was a continued abuse of law enforcement powers by the FBI to surveille the Trump campaign and some of its members for political purposes. As I’ve written, this is far worse than Watergate because in Watergate the misconduct — burglarizing the DNC headquarters to plant listening devices and copy documents — were the acts of private citizens, not the government.
Watergate — the burglary, not the coverup — was aimed to tilt an election to favor one candidate over another. In the FBI’s evident abuse of power in 2016-2017, it was the government acting to disrupt an election and its result. The former was awful. The latter is worse.