WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee’s Democrats released an intelligence memo that refutes GOP claims that the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests was politically tainted.
The memo was released on Saturday with redactions from the White House. It was a response to one authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
At issue in Nunes’s memo was the process by which the FBI and Justice Department obtained surveillance warrants to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, starting in October, 2016. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants were renewed three times after that, with the approval of a judge.
“The Democratic response memo released today should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests.”
The Democratic memo says that the FBI sought a warrant on Page because they had ample reason to believe that he was acting as an agent of a foreign power, pointing out that he had a history with Russian intelligence that stretched back to 2013. It pushes back against claims in the Nunes memo that the FBI relied entirely on a politically motivated dossier authored by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, in its application to obtain a warrant.
The Department of Justice “cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page — but made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russia officials,” the Democrats’ memo stated.
The Steele dossier, as it is known, lays out an array of claims about Trump and his campaign’s contacts with Russia, but it has become a target by Republicans because it was initially prepared by a firm, FusionGPS, that had been retained by a Democratic law firm.
In their memo, the Democrats say that the “political motivation” of those who hired Steele was disclosed by the Justice Department to the FISA court. They say that the FBI never paid Steele for the dossier, but they did authorize him as a source and independently corroborated his information about Page.
The Democrats slammed Nunes for his memo, saying it “draws selectively on highly sensitive information” and contains “other distortions and misrepresentations” that are contradicted by underlying classified documents. Schiff noted that the Republicans and the White House chose to release the Nunes memo over the objections of the FBI, while Democrats released their memo with redactions.
“The document that we are releasing today is the product of a good faith negotiation between the minority and the FBI and DOJ,” Schiff said. “But it is unfortunate that the weekend release of the Democratic memo by the White House was delayed beyond what was necessary and to the advantage of those seeking to mislead the American public.”
The Democrats’ memo also challenges the notion that the FBI launched an investigation because of the Steele dossier. In fact, it was initiated in July, 2016, after the agency received information that the Russians were courting another foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos. He is currently cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation after pleading guilty to lying to an FBI agent about the nature of his contacts with Russian sources.
“As the [intelligence] Committee learned in testimony and the Special Counsel’s investigative progress bears out, the FBI would have continued its investigation even if it had never received information from Steele, never applied for a FISA warrant against Page or if the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had rejected the application,” the Democrats said in a summary of their memo.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, “While the Democrats’ memorandum attempts to undercut the president politically, the president supported its release in the interest of transparency. Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the majority’s memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign.”