Revealed: The Memo! Update: Russiagate *didn’t* start with Page and the dossier? Update: “That’s it?” says Comey
The Memo is out and posted at the House website, although that’s crashed from the traffic influx. The Federalist also has a copy posted, so try there. Things are moving so quickly that I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. However, someone in the White House or on the Hill leaked the document beforehand to some right-wing reporters, namely Catherine Herridge and Byron York, so they had summaries of what it says ready to go for when Trump gave the thumbs up.
I’m working here off of a summary (York’s) of a summary (Nunes’s), then, but there’s no reason to think York’s account is inaccurate. Four key points:
* 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.
Point one: Not that interesting given the lack of specificity. Go back to the analogy of a tipster with a vendetta against John Doe phoning the local PD and claiming that Doe was involved in an unsolved murder. That tip would be “essential” in jumpstarting the investigation into Doe, but if PD developed their own evidence of his guilt, there’s nothing illicit about using the original tip, whatever the motivation behind it. The question is to what extent the Steele dossier formed the basis for probable cause to believe Carter Page was a foreign agent. “Essential” doesn’t tell us much. Maybe the Memo itself will.
Point two: Interesting! And maybe now we know why Chris Wray was suddenly eager for McCabe to go on “terminal leave,” Supposedly his concerns were based on the forthcoming IG report but the fact that McCabe himself was telling people that there would have been no investigation of Page without the dossier is news. That’s also surprising in that Page had been on the FBI’s radar since 2013; if that were so, why did they need the dossier to point them in his direction? Here too, though, there’s ambiguity in York’s summary. When he says that no warrant would have been sought without info in the dossier, does that mean that the dossier *itself* was the evidence offered as probable cause? Or was the dossier the “tip” that encouraged the FBI to start investigating Page independently?
Point three: Also interesting! But maybe not all that unusual under the law. If you missed it a few days ago when I linked it, read Orin Kerr’s analysis of when it is and isn’t required for the state to inform a judge of an informant’s biases. Even if it wasn’t technically required, why didn’t the DOJ voluntarily inform the FISA Court of the Clinton-backed origins of the dossier? Particularly in a sensitive counterintelligence investigation, where the target was an advisor to the Republican nominee for president, they should have showed all of their cards in the interest of full transparency.
Point four: Interesting, although not that surprising that the guy who put together a dossier painting Trump and his aides as sleazy Russian cronies wouldn’t be eager to see him win. Steele’s bias is yet another reason why the origins of the dossier should have been disclosed to the FISA Court, though. If he was adamantly anti-Trump, obviously that fact would call into question the credibility of the evidence he compiled against Carter Page that was offered to the Court for a warrant.
I’m going to go read the document itself and be back with updates. In the meantime, here’s Trump this morning in the Oval Office. Things don’t sound good for Rod Rosenstein.
Update: Uh, what? From the end of the memo:
The counterintelligence investigation we know as Russiagate didn’t begin with Carter Page but rather began, as the NYT reported a few months ago, with George Papadopoulos? The whole reason the Memo is a big deal, I thought, is the chain of causation it implies: The Steele dossier begat the FISA warrant against Page, the FISA warrant against Page begat the broader Russiagate probe, and the broader Russiagate probe begat the Mueller special counsel “witch hunt.” It’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, i.e., the dossier. Except, by the memo’s own admission, it isn’t. They were sniffing around Papadopoulos months before the warrant against Page was granted in October 2016. It could be that what they developed from Page’s side of the probe contributed more to what we now know as Russiagate than what developed from Papadopoulos’s side — although that’s unclear — but the memo seems to undercut the core assumption of the “witch hunt,” that the entire thing grew out of the bad seed that is the dossier. Not true, evidently, according to Devin Nunes himself.
Update: Here’s the key paragraph on McCabe. As noted above, the details about him are the most interesting in the memo:
Gabe Malor notes the phrasing of the key final line about McCabe:
This is what I meant up above about the ambiguity over whether the dossier was a tip, which led the feds to compile their own evidence against Page, or whether it was the evidence for probable cause itself. If McCabe admitted that no warrant would have been *obtained* without the dossier, that would imply that the dossier was critical evidence presented to the FISA Court. If he admitted that no warrant would have been *sought* without it, that could just mean that the dossier gave them reason to start investigating McCabe independently. What exactly did McCabe say in his testimony? We don’t know because we don’t have any of the underlying source materials, including the original FISA application that would show us precisely what was and wasn’t presented to the FISA Court. When do we get that? Or are we going to be forced to parse the truth from this and Adam Schiff’s forthcoming counter-memo?
Having read it now, I think the most damning hit Nunes lands is the fact that the DOJ didn’t voluntarily reveal the origins of the Steele dossier to the FISA Court when applying for a warrant. Even if they weren’t obliged, the political sensitivity of the probe would have made that basic good practice. Comey and McCabe should answer for that.
Update: A Twitter pal makes another good point about the key line on McCabe. Why does it refer to “Steele dossier information” instead of to the “Steele dossier,” period? If the FBI lifted parts of the dossier and laid them in front of the FISA Court without explaining their provenance, that’s dubious. If the FBI took information from the dossier and independently verified it before laying it in front of the FISA Court, that’s not so dubious. Again, this is the difference between evidence itself a tip that leads the police to go gather evidence. Can we get a straight answer from someone on which role the dossier played?
Update: Media reports over the last few days suggested that Rod Rosenstein would be a key target of the memo, with Trump reportedly chattering to aides that the memo might give him political cover to finally oust Rosenstein. He even hinted at it this morning to reporters, as noted above. But Rosenstein barely registers in the text. He’s mentioned for reauthorizing surveillance of Page at one point but otherwise he doesn’t factor. So what’s the firing offense? Is that it, or is there a broader argument that because the memo supposedly proves Russiagate is a witch hunt root and branch, the supervisor of the probe — Rosenstein — necessarily must go?
Update: It’ll be days before the Democratic rebuttal is out but here’s part of Adam Schiff’s statement this afternoon:
“The authors of the GOP memo would like the country to believe that the investigation began with Christopher Steele and the dossier, and if they can just discredit Mr. Steele, they can make the whole investigation go away regardless of the Russians’ interference in our election or the role of the Trump campaign in that interference. This ignores the inconvenient fact that the investigation did not begin with, or arise from Christopher Steele or the dossier, and that the investigation would persist on the basis of wholly independent evidence had Christopher Steele never entered the picture…
“The Majority suggests that the FBI failed to alert the court as to Mr. Steele’s potential political motivations or the political motivations of those who hired him, but this is not accurate. The GOP memo also claims that a Yahoo News article was used to corroborate Steele, but this is not at all why the article was referenced. These are but a few of the serious mischaracterizations of the FISA application.
That last part is a major point of contention, then. Did the feds tell the FISA Court about the paid partisan motivations for the dossier or not?
Update: Yeah, this was and remains the great mystery of the “deep state takedown of Trump” theory of the case here:
Peter Strzok was investigating one Trump advisor, Papadopoulos, in July 2016; the FBI was obtaining a warrant to surveil another Trump advisor, Page, in October 2016. Two Trump advisors under federal investigation for possible collusion with Russia, a dynamite story that could have been leaked at any point to damage Trump. But it didn’t. If nothing else, you would have expected it to leak after Comey’s letter about reopening the Emailgate investigation was published in October, to soften the damage to Hillary from that by focusing public attention on Trump and Russia instead. But it didn’t leak. If Strzok and McCabe et al. were eager to prevent a Trump presidency, why didn’t they just use the material they already had to try to wreck him?
Update: Hoo boy. We’re deep in the mud pit now.