For weeks, Trump supporters have called on the House Intelligence Committee to #ReleaseTheMemo, which they believed would bring down the Justice Department's investigation into Russian involvement in the presidential election campaign. They appear to have gotten a little over their skis. Here are the big takeaways from the House Intelligence Committee's memorandum on alleged FISA abuses.
1. It was George Papadopoulos' big mouth that triggered the FBI investigation, not the Steele dossier.
Many Trump supporters have claimed that it was the salacious and largely unconfirmed dossier compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele on behalf of a Democratic-funded firm that led the FBI to launch its investigation into the Trump campaign. Their theory is that because of its tainted origins, the whole investigation, including special counsel Robert Mueller's work, should be thrown out as poisoned ab initio.
But the House Intelligence Committee memo, released by Committee Chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., reveals that the FBI actually started its counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 as a result of information it obtained about a Trump campaign advisor named George Papadopoulos. According to a report in December by the New York Times, Papadopoulos had told an Australian diplomat that the Russians had obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton. When emails from the DNC started appearing online, the Australians went to the FBI to tell them about Papadopoulos' claim.
2. The FBI used information from the Steele dossier in its FISA warrant application without disclosing the dossier's suspect provenance.
To obtain a FISA warrant in October 2016 to surveil Carter Page, a former advisor to the Trump campaign, the FBI would have to demonstrate probable cause. Nunes' memo reveals that at least some part of the Page warrant application included information from the uncorroborated Steele dossier and that the application did not explain the ways in which Steele was not necessarily a credible source. This is the sort of thing the court would want to know and should have known to properly evaluate whether there was probable cause to order surveillance of a U.S. citizen.
By failing to disclose the origins of Steele's investigation, the warrant application was, at best, incomplete.
3. The Nunes memo does not answer whether the FISA warrant application was appropriate nor whether the FISA warrant should have been denied.
It is ironic that Nunes takes the FBI to task for omitting material information in its FISA warrant application. His own memo omits the information we need to be able to judge whether the warrant application was appropriate and approvable by the FISA court. This is the crucial question that Nunes purports to raise in his memo — whether FISA abuses occurred as a result of DOJ and FBI interactions with the FISA court.
Unfortunately, we still don't know the answer to the question. Nunes' memo has revealed that the warrant application included information from the Steele dossier. The memo also (oddly) discloses that the warrant application included information bolstering Steele's credibility.
But the memo does not say what other information FBI brought to the FISA court to justify the surveillance of Page. If the application was supported by other evidence that independently established probable cause, then it is irrelevant that the Steele information was included too. Of note, Page had previously been the subject of at least one FISA warrant, so FBI had in the past provided enough information for the FISA court to say there was probable cause to surveil him. Without the actual warrant application, we simply do not know.
As a result, we have to conclude that the Nunes memo has been a dud. We still need more information about the Page surveillance warrant. Maybe that will be in the Democrats' counter-memorandum.
Gabriel Malor (@GabrielMalor) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an attorney and writer in Washington, D.C.
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