Democrats released their heavily redacted rebuttal to the Nunes Memo on Saturday. Despite not offering much in the way of new information about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Russian election interference and how it came to draw in former members of the Trump campaign, the memo directly rebutted the most serious charges of the Republican memo.
That original memo, which was released on a party line vote by the House Intelligence Committee, sought to demonstrate that the FBI and Department of Justice had misled FISA Courts when they relied on intelligence gathered from a controversial dossier to acquire a surveillance warrant on former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page.
The Nunes Memo when it was released was seen largely for what it was: A political stunt meant to attempt to discredit the FBI and special counsel investigations. That memo also provided little in the way of new information, but did express a number of insinuated charges impugning the FBI and DOJ officials in charge of the investigations.
Here are some of those charges, and the Democratic responses:
• The main charge in the Nunes Memo was that the FISA applications for Page neglected to note the political financing behind Christopher Steele’s intelligence dossier, which was used as one prong in the application. Steele’s dossier was paid for in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton. The Democratic memo responded that the DOJ customarily does not “unmask” U.S. citizens who are not subject to an intelligence investigation, which is why the application left out the names of U.S. political actors who may have paid for the dossier. It did, however, make clear the political nature of the dossier. The memo, in fact, quotes directly from the FISA application: “The FBI suspects that the identified U.S. Person [who paid Steele for his research] was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.” As the Democratic memo notes in bold: “DOJ in fact informed the court accurately that Steele was hired by politically-motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared intended for use “to discredit” Trump’s campaign.”
• The Nunes Memo claimed that the FISA application relied upon an article by Michael Isikoff, in which Steele was the main source, to corroborate information in the Steele Dossier. As I wrote previously, that would have been negligent at best. It turns out, this claim was also a lie! “In fact,” the Democratic memo says, “DOJ referenced Isikoff’s article, alongside another article the Majority fails to mention, not to provide separate corroboration for Steele’s reporting, but instead to inform the Court of Page’s public denial of his suspected meetings in Moscow, which Page also echoed in a September 25, 2016 letter to FBI Director Comey.” The memo also notes that those Page meetings in Moscow were ultimately corroborated independently.
• The Nunes Memo implies that Steele was paid by the FBI for his dossier and that the FISA application covered up this fact. In fact, the Court was informed that Steele had been paid for previous work as a “confidential human source,” even though he was never actually paid for the dossier. Further, when the FBI stopped working with Steele as a source because he had leaked information to the press, the DOJ informed the FISA Court of this fact in subsequent applications for continued monitoring of Page. These applications “explained to the Court that Steele told the FBI that he made his unauthorized media disclosure because of his frustration at Director Comey’s public announcement shortly before the election that the FBI reopened its investigation into candidate Clinton’s email use.”
All in all, every key claim of the Nunes Memo as it pertains to this FISA application is rebutted by the Democratic release, despite it not actually including that much in the way of new information.
The White House had originally blocked release of the Democratic memo, saying that it would take FBI and Department of Justice recommendations in not releasing certain compromising confidential information. The FBI and DOJ had reported similar concerns about the Nunes Memo, but the White House ignored those.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, meanwhile, released a statement on Saturday saying that the Democratic memo was actually the partisan hit-job.
“While the Democrats’ memorandum attempts to undercut the President politically, the President supported its release in the interest of transparency” Sanders said. “Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority’s memorandum…”
Ultimately, keeping both memos in the news might be the aim of the Trump administration, which can muddy this fight as an indecipherable dispute between two equally partisan sides. Reading both memos, though, makes clear that there was nothing to the initial Republican attack against the Justice Department to begin with.