The just released FISA memo accuses senior officials at the DOJ of inappropriately using biased opposition research into then-candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
According to the document, information from the the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought.
The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.
The document claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against Trump, it did not convey that to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. Steele told then-associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo says.
House conservatives have touted the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel say that it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller. They have drafted their own counter-memo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority voted against immediately making that document public earlier this week.
The memo is based on a slate of highly-classified materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Naturally, the DOJ has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected.
Meanwhile, the underlying evidence remains classified, a state of affairs that Democrats and some national security analysts say makes it impossible to independently verify the memo’s conclusions.
As The Hill reported earlier, ahead of the document’s release, Paul Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay the document — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.
Here are select excerpts from the FISA memo (full pdf below)
On October 21, 2016, DOJ and FBI sought and received a FISA probable cause order (not under Title VII) authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. Page is a U.S. citizen who served as a volunteer advisor to the Trump presidential campaign. Consistent with requirements under FISA, the application had to be first certified by the Director or Deputy Director of the FBI. It then required the approval of the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General (DAG), or the Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division.
The FBI and DOJ obtained one initial FISA warrant targeting Carter Page and three FISA renewals from the FISC. As required by statute (50 U.S.C. §1805(d)(1)), a FISA order on an American citizen must be renewed by the FISC every 90 days and each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause. Then-Director James Comey signed three FISA applications in question on behalf of the FBI, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Then-DAG Sally Yates, then-Acting DAG Dana Boente, and DAG Rod Rosenstein each signed one or more FISA applications on behalf of DOJ.
Our findings indicate that, as described below, material and relevant information was omitted.
The “dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application. Steele was a longtime FBI source who was paid over $160,000 by the DNC and Clinton campaign, via the law firm Perkins Coie and research firm Fusion GPS, to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
What follows is what some have dubbed the “damning section”, as there was no reason not to disclosed the relationship between Clinton and Steele, unless the authors were worried about exposing a clear political link:
a) Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.
b) The initial FISA application notes Steele was working for a named U.S. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie) representing the DNC (even though it was known by DOJ at the time that political actors were involved with the Steele dossier). The application does not mention Steele was ultimately working on behalf of—and paid by—the DNC and Clinton campaign, or that the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.
The section above also makes a good case for releasing the underlying FISA application, as either the Clinton connection was disclosed or it wasn’t – not a fact either party can distort.
In a curious twist, in order to corroborate the dossier, the memo reveals that the FBI “extensively” cited a news article — that was based entirely on the dossier. In effect, using the dossier to corroborate the dossier.
The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News. The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News. Steele has admitted in British court filings that he met with Yahoo News—and several other outlets—in September 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS. Perkins Coie was aware of Steele’s initial media contacts because they hosted at least one meeting in Washington D.C. in 2016 with Steele and Fusion GPS where this matter was discussed.
The memo continues revealing more information about Steele and his clear political bias:
Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations—an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI in an October 30, 2016, Mother Jones article by David Corn.
Steele’s numerous encounters with the media violated the cardinal rule of source handling—maintaining confidentiality—and demonstrated that Steele had become a less than reliable source for the FBI.
3) Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorneys General Yates and later Rosenstein. Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele. For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump when Steele said he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This clear evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files—but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.
During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump. Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research, paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS. The Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.
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After Steele was terminated, a source validation report conducted by an independent unit within FBI assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated. Yet, in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier, even though it was – according to his June 2017 testimony – “salacious and unverified.” While the FISA application relied on Steele’s past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters, it ignored or concealed his anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations. Furthermore, Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.
The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok. Strzok was reassigned by the Special Counsel’s Office to FBI Human Resources for improper text messages with his mistress, FBI Attorney Lisa Page (no known relation to Carter Page), where they both demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton, whom Strzok had also investigated. The Strzok/Lisa Page texts also reflect extensive discussions about the investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media, and include a meeting with Deputy Director McCabe to discuss an “insurance” policy against President Trump’s election.
The bottom line: as noted earlier, if found that there was clear undisclosed bias in the launch of surveillance of Trump’s team, then Mueller’s probe – whose findings would be the result of a flawed FISA warrant – would be null and void, leave space for Trump to fire the special prosecutor or Rod Rosenstein.
Incidentally, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump suggested the document shows political bias at the FBI that tainted the probe into whether his campaign cooperated with Russia’s election meddling.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” Trump said of the alleged bias. “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.”
The decision cleared the way for the House Intelligence Committee to release the memo, which it did shortly after noon. “It was declassified and let’s see what happens,” Trump said. White House made no redactions to the document.
Full memo at the bottom:
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Just before noon on Friday, the “FISA” memo compiled by House Intelligence Committee staff, led by chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), from classified documents provided by the Department of Justice, was officially declassified by Trump’s lawyer Donald Gahn – over the objections of the DOJ and the FBI – as explained in the letter below.
According to the Washington Examiner’s Byron York who had access to an early released version, a key point in the memo is that the salacious and still unproven Steele dossier formed the essential part of the initial and all three renewal applications against Carter Page, in line with what as previously leaked.
As York also explicitly highlights, “The FBI’s Andrew McCabe confirmed to the committee that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.”
This, as Fox News confirms, means that absent the dossier, at least one of the surveillance warrants in the case would not have been obtained, and – by implication – the entire Mueller probe is thus on shaky legal ground.
Back to the memo, which as York adds, “the political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.”
More House Intel memo key point: The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications. https://t.co/jzSl1tzhfc
— Byron York (@ByronYork) February 2, 2018
As Dow Jones confirms, DOJ officials knew Steele was being paid by democrats, and that officials at the DOJ and FBI signed one warrant, and three renewals against Carter Page.
York also notes that DOJ official Bruce Ohr was relayed information about Christopher Steele’s bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.
All else equal, sounds like a clear case of bias, and when extended, it would imply that the entire Mueller probe is base on grounds that could be overturned in court.
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To recap, here are the key points disclosed in the memo, as summarized by the Washington Exmainer which has an early unclassified version of the memo:
- The Steele dossier formed an essential part of the intial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page.
- Andrew McCabe confirmed that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.
- The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.
- DOJ official Bruce Ohr met with Steele beginning in the summer of 2016 and relayed to DOJ information about Steele’s bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.
As a reminder, the FBI and Justice Department mounted a months-long effort to keep the information outlined in the memo out of the House Intelligence Committee’s hands. Only the threat of contempt charges and other forms of pressure forced the FBI and Justice to give up the material.
Once Intelligence Committee leaders and staff compiled some of that information into the memo, the FBI and Justice Department, supported by Capitol Hill Democrats, mounted a ferocious campaign of opposition, saying release of the memo would endanger national security and the rule of law.
But Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes never wavered in his determination to make the information available to the public. President Trump agreed, and, as required by House rules, gave his approval for release.
Finally, the memo released today does not represent the sum total of what House investigators have learned in their review of the FBI and Justice Department Trump-Russia investigation. That means the fight over the memo could be replayed in the future when the Intelligence Committee decides to release more information.
Moments after the announcement that the memo was declassified, Trump spoke to reporters and was asked if the memo makes it more likely that he will fire Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, to which Trump responded.
When asked if the memo makes it more likely he will fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump responds: “You figure that one out.” pic.twitter.com/8eyAtm8uKF
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) February 2, 2018
Full memo below (pdf link):