After two weeks and with the first iteration blocked by Donald Trump, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff has released the Democrats' side of the House Intelligence Committee's story on the FISA surveillance of former Trump aide Carter Page. Vox's Zack Beauchamp:
Late on Saturday afternoon, House Democrats surprised the country by releasing their rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo — the document, prepared by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), that has become a key part of the conservative argument that the FBI is biased against President Donald Trump. The Democrats’ rebuttal memo, written by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), argues that the Nunes memo is full of “distortions and misrepresentations” that don’t stand up to scrutiny based on the underlying classified evidence.
Having now read both memos, I can say with confidence: Schiff makes his case. Schiff quotes key FBI documents that explicitly contradict the Nunes memo’s core arguments. Any fair-minded observer who reads these two documents side-by-side can only conclude one thing: Nunes is either deeply misinformed or straight-up lying.
“This is a pretty thorough demolition,” Julian Sanchez, an expert on surveillance at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on Twitter after reading Schiff’s memo.
And it is. But we know Nunes recused himself from the investigation because of his personal involvement in leaking information to the Trump White House, and yet issued the memo anyway. Nunes is in trouble and has been for a while now. How he's still chair of the House Intel Committee, well, you'll have to ask the also-compromised House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The Nunes memo’s core allegation is that the FBI and Department of Justice misled at least one federal judge on a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) court during the Trump-Russia investigation.
In October 2016, the FBI requested a FISA warrant to spy on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. FBI and DOJ officials argued that Page had troubling connections to the Kremlin, and wanted to check him out as part of their overall investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
An “essential part” of the application, Nunes argues, came from the so-called Steele dossier — the document containing major allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that was put together by former British spy Christopher Steele (it’s also the source of the “pee tape” rumors). The problem, Nunes argues, is that Steele’s research was partially funded by Democrats — but the FBI purposely neglected to tell the court about that source of funding.
In essence, Nunes alleges that the FBI used opposition research put together by a Democratic political operative to go after the Trump campaign without disclosing that clear conflict of interest to the court. This was, according to Nunes, “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”
Schiff quotes a lengthy passage from the actual application the FBI sent to the FISA court asking for permission to snoop on Page. In the key line, the application explicitly notes that “the FBI speculates” that Steele had been hired to find “information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.”
That’s it. That’s the ballgame. The FBI clearly states right there in the FISA application that they believe Steele was hired to find dirt on Trump. Since the core contention of the Nunes memo is that the FBI didn’t do that, Nunes’s entire argument falls apart.
Nunes's argument was always dumb, predicated on that it was a witch hunt for Trump when the reality was that the FBI had its eyes on Carter Page for over five years, well before Trump's campaign began. The FISA court judge wasn't "misled" by the FBI...and the judge was appointed by Bush.
But notice Trump's reaction to the Schiff memo blowing his last bit of cover out of the water.
Saying there were "no phone calls, no meetings, no collusion," President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed for an investigation of "the other side" amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while claiming "we need intelligence that brings our country together."
"A lot of bad things happened on the other side, not on this side, but on the other side. And somebody should look into it, because what they did is really fraudulent and somebody should be looking into that and by somebody, I'm talking about you know who," Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a reference widely interpreted to mean Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In a free-ranging phone interview, Trump said the Democratic memo released by the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday afternoon was a "total confirmation" of the GOP memo released three weeks ago by Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.), even though the Democratic response purports to rebutRepublican claims that the FBI and the Justice Department relied on the disputed Steele dossier in an application to spy on a Trump campaign adviser.
Trump has repeatedly said there was no "collusion" between his campaign and Russian officials and has publicly urged Sessions to investigate top officials at the FBI over their handling of the investigation. Sessions' recusal from overseeing what has become special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is reportedly a frequent sore spot in his relationship with the president.
Trump outright lies and again calls for the investigation of his political enemies. He's done this again and again whenever he's cornered. Let's not forget that AG Jeff Sessions is doing exactly that.
The president also returned to one of his familiar foils, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who as the top Democrat on the intelligence panel crafted his party's response to the Nunes memo. Trump claimed Schiff leaks information to reporters in actions that were "probably not legal."
"You see this Adam Schiff has a meeting and leaves the meeting and calls up reporters and then all of a sudden they'll have news and you're not supposed to do that -- it's probably illegal to do it. You know he'll have a committee meeting and he'll leak all sorts of information. You know, he's a bad guy."
Trump added that the blame for not stopping "Russian meddling, if you want to call it that" in the 2016 presidential election rests with President Barack Obama, since he was in office when Russian interference occurred. But he added: "We should all be on the same team. We should all come together as a nation."
It's very clear what Trump wants and believes: Democrats need to be rounded up, Obama needs to be blamed, and Trump needs to be hailed as the smartest human being alive.
Reality will differ somewhat.