As those who’ve followed the spygate story remember, in February of last year Devin Nunes released a widely anticipated 4-page memo known as the “Nunes Memo” that alleged Christopher Steele’s (Clinton and DNC funded) dossier was instrumental in justifying surveillance of Trump campaign member Carter Page. The Memo alleged, among other things, that the FBI didn’t disclose the political origins of the dossier as their source when requesting a warrant from a FISA court.
In response, Adam Schiff released a memo of his own attempting to rebut Nunes. “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,” Schiff said in a statement at the time. “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.”
Blessed with the power of hindsight over a year later, we can prove that Schiff’s memo was jam-packed with falsehoods he didn’t think would be exposed.
The FBI Investigation’s Origins
Schiff’s memo repeats the myth that it was George Papadopoulos responsible for sparking the FBI’s investigation into the Trump team. He also (falsely) claims that Steele’s research didn’t even reach the FBI until seven weeks after they opened their investigation.
As Dan and I noted last week, a simple timeline renders that thesis impossible, for two main reasons:
- Papadopoulos allegedly revealed that he had dirt on Hillary Clinton sourced from the Russians in May 2016, but the FBI didn’t even interview him until January 2017. Why wait, if the investigation was supposed to be about Russian collusion?
- Nellie Ohr worked for the company that created the dossier (Fusion GPS) and met with her husband Bruce Ohr from DOJ, and dossier author Christopher Steele on July 30, 2016 Bruce Ohr then met with the FBI on the same day, July 30, 2016 and the FBI case is opened the next day, July 31, 2016.
So the FBI did have access to the dossier…. the day before their investigation opened.
The FISA Warrant
When it comes to the FBI’s spying on Carter Page, Schiff argues that this doesn’t constitute spying on the Trump campaign because it didn’t begin until after Page had left the Trump campaign.
Two points are worth making here:
- If Page hadn’t left Trump’s campaign, the surveillance would’ve still occurred. And;
- If all of Page’s calls are being monitored, and he’s keeping in contact with some members of the Trump campaign, how does this not constitute spying on the Trump campaign, albeit by proxy?
Even Politico had to admit that the FBI’s surveillance of Page “might have” picked up his conversations with Steve Bannon, and when it came to the surveillance of Paul Manafort, Fortune Magazine noted that “It is unclear whether the President [Trump] was recorded as part of the investigation.” If Manafort was being surveilled and spoke to President Trump while being surveilled, what do you think? The FBI selectively decided to ignore those calls? Of course not.
The same holds true for Page and any contacts with Trump campaign members he maintained.
Schiff makes a number of false claims specific to Christopher Steele.
The biggest lie is when Schiff claims that the DOJ/FBI never paid Steele for his research and services.
FBI documents released in August of 2018 revealed that was a lie. As NBC News reported at the time:
The FBI has released 71 pages of what it describes as correspondence between the bureau and Christopher Steele.
The records also indicate that in February 2016 the FBI “admonished” Steele. A federal law enforcement official explains that an admonishment is typically given when a person begins a stint as a confidential informant and annually thereafter. It is a briefing on the rules of being an informant to ensure the source complies with guidelines set by the Attorney General, and usually not criticism of the source.
Because of the redactions, it is not possible to tell when payments to Steele began, but it has previously been reported that he assisted the FBI with past investigations, including a probe of corruption in international soccer.
Next, Schiff defends the FBI citing a Yahoo! News article in the FISA warrant, and claims that criticisms of Bruce Ohr are misleading. Ohr worked at the DOJ while his wife Nellie Ohr worked with Fusion GPS on the dossier.
The first point is in regards to a September 2016 news article by Michael Isikoff published by Yahoo! News that is cited in the dossier. The Yahoo! article is sourced (anonymously) from Steele, and is cited in the FISA application, leading many conservatives to allege that the FBI was essentially using Steele to prove the contents of his own dossier. Schiff says the Yahoo! article was only cited to prove that Page publicly denied a particular link to Russia, not to corroborate information. Unfortunately, due to redactions, it’s impossible to prove or disprove this claim, but I will note that there is no mention of Page’s denial mentioned in the un-redacted portions (see: page 21 of the document).
It’s unclear what point Schiff thinks he’s making about Bruce Ohr. While critics accurately levy that Ohr wasn’t notifying the DOJ about his interactions with Steele, Schiff’s defense is that Ohr actually did in late November of 2016. This is irrelevant. If there were a time for Ohr to disclose his conflicts of interest, it was when it mattered – while the 2016 campaigns were still ongoing.