There’s not much news in the House Intelligence Committee Majority Staff Memo on abuses by a few individuals at the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) in the use of FISA (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act) to conduct surveillance on domestic political opponents. There is confirmation of the leaks that the discredited “Trump Dossier” a/k/a “Steele Dossier” (see “CNN’s “Fake News”“) was used to obtain a FISA domestic surveillance warrant on a Trump advisor, Carter Page, during the campaign. Up till now we’ve all had to say it “may have been used.” There are also a couple of damning details.
The first detail is that FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified that the warrant would not even have been sought without the Dossier. Democratic sources on the Committee claim that McCabe did not exactly say that. The record on that point can be clarified by the transcript.
The second detail is that the provenance of the Dossier – paid for by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, masked as a legal expense, as campaign opposition research – and its unreliability – described by former FBI Director James Comey as “salacious and unverified – were not disclosed by the DOJ to the FISA judge.
The background to all this appears in “A Primer: the Election, the Russians, Spies & Leaks” published here last April. More recent developments, including discovery of the Clinton campaign origin of the Steele Dossier and the Obama Justice Department’s use of it, appear in “The “Russian Collusion” Investigation Takes an Unexpected Bounce”
“Corroboration” of the Dossier. The Memo also says the FISA application mentions Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, later charged by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller with lying to the FBI, although there is “no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page (Carter Page, against whom the warrant was sought) and Papadopoulos.”
According to the Memo the FISA application, as corroboration of the Steele Dossier, “cited extensively” a September 23, 2016 Yahoo News article with much of the same information. The FISA application erroneously assesses that Steele was not the source of the Yahoo News article. However, the Memo notes that Steele himself admitted in British court filings that he was a source of the Yahoo News story.
It is important to note that the Memo does not claim that FBI and DOJ officials knew that Steele was the source of the Yahoo News story. It is troubling, however, that the FBI and DOJ were heavily relying on a Yahoo News report, in turn based on unnamed sources, as a basis for a FISA warrant application.
The FISA Judge. All this leads me to wonder about the FISA judge who issued the warrant. FISA Court judges are regular Federal District judges, specially named to the FISA Court by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Has the judge become aware of the flaws in the information supplied to the Court by lawyers who knew of them? I think the judge would have the authority to call the lawyers back into Court to explain themselves. It would be useful to know who the judge was. There are, unfortunately, some judges who have a tendency to defer to the government. Recent experience has also shown us that there are judges who have demonstrated apparent partisanship affecting their judgment when it comes to decisions involving Donald Trump.
Release of the Memo a national security risk? Before the release of the Memo, the DOJ and FBI, echoed by some Democrats, prominently including House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, loudly protested that release of the Memo would pose a danger to national security by exposure of intelligence “sources and methods.” There are no secrets threatening intelligence activities in the Memo. None. The only secrets in the Memo are secrets kept from the American people.
Attack on the FBI? Schiff and other Democrats and their acolytes among the press also wail about an “attack on the FBI.” There is no attack on the FBI. Of the 35,000 employees of the FBI, only three were called into question by the memo and they have long since been criticized publicly. They are Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, senior Special Agent Pete Strzok and FBI Attorney Lisa Page. McCabe was pressured to leave the day after the new Director read the Memo. His wife, a Democratic state senate candidate, was the beneficiary of over $700,000.00 in political donations provided by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally. Strzok interviewed Hillary Clinton about her email server without recording the statement. He also reportedly changed “gross negligence” to “extreme carelessness” in Director Comey’s statement about the email server investigation, removing the behavior from the category of criminal. Strzok initiated the entire FBI Counterintelligence investigation in late July, 2016. Lisa Page was a participant in tens of thousands of text messages with Strzok, referring to their efforts, discussed “in Andrew’s (McCabe’s) office” ways to derail the Trump campaign and Presidency. The Memo is not at all an effort to attack the FBI. I am inclined to think that most FBI agents, including those I have known, would agree and be inclined to support the President.
Former FBI Director James Comey protests the unveiling of a FISA warrant against a US citizen, Carter Page. Of course, the FBI long ago leaked that fact to the public and Page himself is quite content to have the shabby facts made public. He is a victim of a few partisans at the FBI, not the Memo.
Rod Rosenstein Involvement. Another subplot in the drama is the role of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee. FISA warrants must be renewed every 90 days. The applications for the Carter Page surveillance were signed off on by Director Comey, Obama holdover officials and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who was in charge of the Trump-Russia Collusion, Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself. The facts in the Memo and much more have long been known to the Committee. It is hard to imagine that Rosenstein has not already been asked to explain himself. Was he aware of the unreliability of the Dossier and its apparent lack of corroboration? Was he too trusting of subordinates who asked him to sign? Occasionally politically appointed heads of large Federal agencies become captives, becoming advocates more for the agency than their President. Rosenstein, particularly, has a long history working the the DOJ.
It may, of course, be that there is other corroboration of such a nature that it must be kept secret. Surely there would be a way to characterize such information, while masking its source. The howls of outrage preceding release of the Memo should remind us all that the denizens of Washington DC deem an appropriate subject of secrecy to be anything that embarrasses them.
Finally, there are still those who claim that this aspect of the investigation is an effort to divert attention and undermine the Trump-Collusion investigation. Nonsense. Trump-Collision and misbehavior of a cabal at the top of the FBI and DOJ are not inconsistent or necessarily alternate theories. They could both be true or false. We are well into the second year of the Russian Collusion and no evidence of criminal collusion between the Trump Campaign and the Russians to influence the election has emerged. There is much to suggest that Clinton partisans in the DOJ and FBI did collude to interfere in the election.
We’ll await the Democratic response memo. In the meantime we can be grateful to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes for persisting in his efforts to release the facts in the face of personal attacks and stonewalling by the DOJ and FBI leadership with spurious claims of “national security.”
We need to know if the Trump campaign criminally colluded with the Russians to influence the campaign or if partisans manipulated a government agency to spy on domestic political opponents. It is hard to imagine a criminal prosecution or intelligence source, the protection of which is more important than full public knowledge of what happened during the election and since.