Congressman David Nunez, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, used the promised release of his memo to initiate a two-week campaign to discredit the FBI investigation into possible collusion of Donald Trump/his surrogates with the Russian “influence campaign.” But the memo finally submitted to the President for declassification merely deals with the authorization to surveil Carter Page, a volunteer foreign affairs consultant to the Trump campaign. Why is there this discrepancy between hype and fact?
Let’s begin with the President’s official declassification of this memo for public consumption. That response was written by the President’s Counsel, Donald F. McGahn II and states as follows: “To be clear, the Memorandum rejects the judgments of its congressional authors.” While the Administration rejects the memo’s conclusions, declassifying its contents supports its avowed purpose. And that purpose, as outlined in Nunez’ memo, was to highlight concerns about the legitimacy and legality of the DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and potential abuse of the its legal process that was originally designed to protect the American people. Although McGahn wrote the Administration’s reply to Nunez declassification request, the decision to declassify the document could only be made by the President. It has been reported that he had a three-and-a-half-hour window in which to deliberate his decision.
The following is my summary of Nunez’ “case-in-chief” after a six-minute perusal of his memo:
(1) Neither the initial request for a surveillance warrant nor any of its three renewal requests-authorized by Comey, McCabe, and Rosenstein, successively, as the memo highlights—mentioned the DNC’s or FBI’s role in partially funding Christopher Steele’s investigation into Carter Page’s relations with Russian contacts. This alleged failure is noteworthy. The implication is that the investigation was merely political opposition research supported by partisan DOJ and FBI officials and not worthy of clandestine surveillance.
(2) The surveillance request sites Yahoo’s reporting of Steele’s investigation as unverified. Further, it fails to mention that Yahoo incorrectly stated that its reporting of Steele’s “dossier” did not come directly from Steele. The implication is that Yahoo either had other, more corroborating sources which it failed to disclose or, more likely, was guilty of giving cover to its lone, unreliable source.
(3) After disclosing his FBI relationship to Yahoo in October, 2017, Steele was suspended and “terminated” by the FBI as a reliable intelligence source. Further, the FBI failed to terminate him in the previous September when he showed his dossier to Mother Jones. The memo states that Steele “lied” to the FBI about his contact with Mother Jones in September. The implication is that the FBI belatedly acted to terminate its relations with an untrustworthy source and failed to admit its incompetence in its surveillance request. (It should be noted that “termination” implies a formal contract, of which there is no evidence. Normally, the FBI simply suspends a relationship with a source. And Steele’s “lying” to the FBI is a felony which, as of this date, remains unverified and unprosecuted.)
(4) Steele’s numerous contacts with the media violated “the cardinal rule of source handling—maintaining confidentiality—and demonstrated that he had become a less than reliable source for the FBI.”
(5) Steele revealed his bias against Donald Trump to the Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorney Generals, Yates and later Rosenstein. Ohr reported that Steele was “passionate about him (Trump) not being elected.” Ohr’s wife also worked for Fusion GPS, Steele’s employer, and was instrumental in supplying the FBI with her opposition research. The Ohrs’ relationship to Steele and Fusion GPS was allegedly concealed from the FISC, along with Steele’s incriminating bias against Trump. The implication is that the dossier is a faulty intelligence report based upon animus and not credible evidence.
(6) The FBI Deputy Director testified to the House Intelligence Committee in December, 2017, that no surveillance request would have been requested without the Steele dossier. The implication is that the dossier was the sole, rather than the final, piece of evidence to initiate the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page.
(7) Finally, the memo effectively exonerates Carter Page as the initiator of the investigation into Russia’s “influence campaign.” Although his visit to Moscow is mentioned in the dossier, the memo inexplicably admits that the dossier did not initiate the investigation either. Instead, the memo states the investigation was launched in July, 2017, because of George Papadopoulos’ admissions to the Australian Foreign Minister. Carter Page reportedly had no contact with Papadopoulos. Perhaps the reference to Papadopoulos has an ulterior motive—that is, the opportunity to mention the lead FBI agent in the July investigation, namely, Pete Strzok. He was also one of the investigators in the Clinton email case. His text message exchanges with his mistress admit leaks to the media and discussions with Deputy Director McCabe about an “insurance” policy against President Trump’s election. The implication here is that a conspiratorial cabal exists within the FBI. Its purpose is to derail the Trump Presidency.
Carter Page was not just an extraneous and unwitting victim of this conspiracy but an appropriate ruse to out this conspiracy. Does the Nunez’ memo prove its case that the DOJ and FBI falsely and illegally petitioned FISC to grant and renew surveillance warrants against Carter Page, thereby abusing the legal protections of FISA? If that were its purpose, then it missed its opportunity to appeal directly to the FISC. Carter Page seems to understand that, even if no one adequately defended him in FISC, he still can sue the government for abusing his privacy. He admitted as much on national television. If he proceeds with a libel suit, he might want to include Congressman Nunez who has made his case fodder for the press and his guilt or innocence subject for debate in the public forum.
But Nunez’ purpose was not to vindicate Carter Page, but, as admitted in the memo, to damn the DOJ and the FBI. Certainly, he has no problem with FISA, for he stood on the floor of the House less than a month ago defending it and eloquently supporting its renewal. Many have argued that the surveillance authorized by this secret court can and possibly does violate individual privacy, but few Republicans—and certainly not Nunez—have made that argument.
Once again, it should be obvious that Nunez has little interest in defending Carter Page’s suitability for surveillance. Nunez provides us with excerpts in lieu of a point-by-point rebuttal of the full body of evidence submitted by the FBI. We cannot know whether the evidence supplied to FISC in Page’s case was adequate, for its full disclosure reportedly encompasses hundreds of pages. The FISA judges ruled that the evidence provided was adequate to warrant surveillance.
Nunez had a different goal in mind in drafting this memo. He cleverly has drawn a line of incompetence, bias, and conspiracy through Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein, Yates, Ohr, Strzok (all of whom, except for Rosenstein, have been fired, retired, or reassigned) and the media. His pretense to champion Carter Page’s cause is a sham. The subversive purpose of Nunez’ memo was to discredit the DOJ and FBI. The Page surveillance warrant offered him a pretext for undermining the investigation into Russia’s influence campaign and any possible connection to collusion with the Trump campaign or to subsequent obstruction of that investigation. In other words, the Nunez’ memo is a political document.
Despite the hype surrounding this memo, there are a few positive facts we can discern from its publication. First, Carter Page who has been characterized by Russian agents as an “idiot source,” has not been indicted by the DOJ or the special prosecutor to date. Since 2013 he has been merely a person of interest to the FBI because of his frequent meetings with Russians and his support for Putin’s policies. Second, the Speaker of the House did in fact have the authority to release the Nunez’ memo; and the Administration did appropriately have it vetted by its intelligence council before releasing it to the public. As they say in basketball, no harm, no foul here.
The real problem is with our political parties. Remember when the Democrats attacked the Special Prosecutor during the Clinton investigation into obstruction of justice. Now we have the reverse situation: Republicans defaming the DOJ and the FBI over Trump’s or his campaign’s involvement in collusion with the Russians and Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. (Apparently, Mueller is still believed untouchable to defamation.) Meanwhile, his investigation rolls on. And this memo is just a distraction. The harm here is to the image of the DOJ and the FBI, and the foul is on Nunez.
Paradoxically, Nunez does less to impugn FISA, the FBI, the DOJ or to exonerate Carter Page than to imply his complicity in obstruction of justice.