Reports: Democratic memo, officials dispute key claims in GOP memo
A central claim of the memo alleging FBI misconduct released by House Intelligence Committee Republicans Friday is directly disputed by a still-unreleased Democratic memo and the accounts of U.S. officials, according to multiple media reports.
The four-page memo prepared by Republican committee staff working with Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., alleges that the FBI obtained FISA warrants to monitor a former adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump in October 2016 using unverified information provided by a source working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The FBI has said the memo contains “material omissions” that impact its accuracy, but Nunes dismissed the bureau's complaints as a “spurious” attempts to cover up malfeasance.
According to the memo, a dossier of information compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was an essential piece of the application to surveil one-time Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Steele obtained information raising suspicions about Page’s involvement with Russia while he was working for a research firm that was being paid by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
The memo claims Steele’s political bias and source of financing were not disclosed to the FISA court.
President Trump asserted on Twitter Saturday that the memo “vindicated” his belief that the entire investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election is a partisan witch hunt against him. However, Democrats and legal experts say the memo is far from conclusive, and some top Republicans in Congress maintain that the claims in the memo are unrelated to the Russia investigation now led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information that few Members of Congress have seen, and which Chairman Nunes himself chose not to review,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. “It fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA application and renewals, and ignores why and how the FBI initiated, and the Special Counsel has continued, its counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election interference and links to the Trump campaign.”
Democrats on the committee authored their own memo rebutting the GOP document, but Republicans opposed releasing them simultaneously. Republicans insist the Democratic memo will be released eventually, but details from it were reported late Friday by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Journal, the FISA application did say that Steele was being paid by a law firm working for a major political party, but it did not specify that it was the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
One official told the Washington Post that “no thinking person who read any of these applications would come to any other conclusion” than that Steele was working for partisans opposed to Trump.
Members of the committee are also squabbling publicly about what FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told them in testimony in December. The memo states that he said the surveillance warrant would not have been sought without the information in the dossier. Democrats argue that mischaracterizes his words.
“Mr. McCabe presented the material as part of a constellation of compelling evidence that raised serious suspicions about Mr. Page, the two people said. The evidence included contacts Mr. Page had in 2013 with a Russian intelligence operative,” the Times reported, citing sources familiar with the Democratic memo.
The Republican memo is critical of FBI officials for citing a Yahoo News article that turned out to also be based on Steele’s dossier in the application. However, Schiff has said the article was not intended as corroboration.
A FISA expert told the Times the article may have been included “to show that the investigation had become public, and that the target therefore might take steps to destroy evidence or cover his tracks.”
After the initial application was presented to the FISA court, it was renewed three times in the following year with the approval of different DOJ officials and different FISA judges. Extending a FISA warrant typically requires proving that the surveillance is collecting new evidence.
While the Democratic memo may fill in some gaps and provide context for the Republican allegations when it is released, it will likely present a similarly one-sided and incomplete case. Some lawmakers and experts say it may be necessary to declassify the whole FISA applications or the underlying intelligence for the public to learn what really happened.