That Memo: Not Much There
Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 3, 2018
I finished reading this Republican House Intelligence Committee memo that was supposed to show extraordinary bias and partisanship for Democrats and against the Trump campaign, and scratched my head.
Rather than “transparency” as the announced goal, it achieved a kind of wacky linkage of hints and winks towards, well, not too much.
This memo is simply a poorly done summary of classified reports that we can’t see or measure ourselves. It is neither persuasive nor well-documented; the memo raises more questions about the memo itself and the arguments surrounding its release than it does about the legitimacy of FISA warrants against Trump associate Carter Page. Nor does it say that should have been no surveillance of Page, or what would differ if there had been no surveillance of Page. Indeed, it is silent about the myriad other aspects of the Russia investigation or raise questions about whether they actually took place, or even directly argue that an investigation actually is not needed.
In defense, various Republican congress members explained simply that this illustrated an abridgment of Page’s rights as a citizen because the sources used to approve the surveillance were not labeled as tainted.
Wait a minute. Didn’t the surveillance of Page continue into Trump’s presidency? Aren’t intelligence agencies telling us that Russians are still trying to influence elections in the United States, Europe and elsewhere? Doesn’t it matter whether the President of the United States obstructed justice? And, are intelligence agencies now going to withhold information from Congress or allied intelligence systems from U.S. partners as a result of release of this classified information? What’s the point?
The memo is not clear about what prompted interest in Page well before the so-called Steele dossier was available, and what evoked the three renewals of the surveillance. It asserts without proof that the dossier was presented as THE reason for a warrant, when it is clear that the FISA review process is much more complicated than a single document could provide (an application is usually 60–70 pages long, and renewals must reflect progress in intelligence), and, of course, the canard that the dossier remains verboten material because it was underwritten by a law firm run by an associate of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
From published reports, the FBI and intelligence agencies were looking into Page and others before summer, 2016, and portions of the dossier indeed was among documents used in seeking a FISA warrant in October, 2016. In fact, Page had been a subject of interest to intelligence agencies since 2013. According to The Washington Post, “Page first came to the FBI’s attention in 2013, when a Russian suspected to be linked to the country’s intelligence agencies identified him in a recorded conversation as someone who might be able to be leveraged for information. The Post’s original story about the Page warrant noted that this incident was part of the warrant application, which isn’t mentioned in the newly released memo. There may also have been other components of the warrant that haven’t yet been made public.”
Actually, the four pages are filled with rough attempts to label individuals as Democrat-leaning, offering that as “proof” that there was something wrong at the FBI and Justice Department. The memo reads like a bad Cliff’s Notes of the events, with obvious omissions. There is a section linking Steele with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Atty. Gen. Bruce Ohr whose wife worked for the company that hired Steele.
So, I what I understand is that I am supposed to read this memo as a political tool, not as an investigative one. That’s the only way these pages lead to any possible action against Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod D. Rosenstein or FBI head Christopher Wray, or maybe the four different FISA judges who separately reviewed the warrant applications.
It’s a lot easier to understand what all the fuss was all about if you look at it only as a means to go after Rosenstein as supervisor of the Special Counsel’s investigation of potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and any obstruction of justice in trying to stop or limit the campaign.
I guess it is expected, if not reasonable, that Devin Nunes, (R-CA), head of the House Intelligence Committee, holds these opinions as “fact,” but it does not explain support for Nunes and the memo from wide numbers of congressional Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan. After all, Nunes is close to Trump, and previously faced House ethics charges for using White House classified feeds to present information back to the White House; it is not clear whether White House staff contributed to the writing of this memo.
While reactions from all parts of Washington mostly followed expected paths, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions issued a statement that said the Justice Department would take the criticisms of missteps seriously. What does that mean? What are they going to look into? Is there a suggestion here of a broken law?
While Sean Hannity saw the memo of “proof” of bias of officialdom against Trump, Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R-SC), a lead Republican investigator, tweeted that while there are questions about possible missteps at the FBI, it should have no effect in derailing Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation. Comey’s tweet seemed to mirror my reaction, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) cut to the chase, called for better Republican behavior, saying that White House and Republicans were “doing Putin’s work for him.”
For that matter, it is difficult at first glance to see what the FBI and Justice Department found objectionable in unearthing “methods and sources” of information. All that the memo seems to say directly is to say that Rosenstein, former FBI head James B. Comey, just-resigned Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates, and others signing the applications for surveillance memos omitted any mention that the Steele dossier was paid for in part by Democratic opposition research. “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 and FBI officials.”
All of which brings us back to why there was so much fuss about the memo itself. If the point was to unearth missteps at Justice, why not go to Justice and tell them to clean up their act? No, the real point here is to muddy the waters around Mueller’s investigation, to put Rosenstein in the cross-hairs as a means to get to Mueller.
This is a strictly political memo, not an intelligence report, not an investigative report, not an historically accurate summary. Why are we playing hide and seek with the memo?