“Salacious and unverified”: Did the Memo misquote Comey on the dossier?
There’s no question he used those words during testimony before Congress when he was asked about the dossier. The Memo quotes him on it in the key paragraph that mentions Andrew McCabe.
Why the hell would the FBI would have included a document in its FISA application to surveil Carter Page that, by the director’s own account, was “salacious and unverified”?
They didn’t, notes L.A. prosecutor Patrick “Patterico” Frey. Go back to the transcript of what Comey actually said when he testified and you’ll see that Nunes is being slippery in quoting him. He never claimed that the entirety of the memo was “unverified.” He claimed that parts were. I’m not going to lift every quote from Frey’s post, which deserves to be read in full, but here’s one key exchange:
BURR: In the public domain is this question of the “Steele dossier,” a document that has been around out in for over a year. I’m not sure when the FBI first took possession of it, but the media had it before you had it and we had it. At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?
COMEY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation.
Obviously, if the entire dossier were unverified, there’d be no need for Comey to wait for the closed-session part of his testimony to say so. The only reason he’d hedge on that when speaking in front of the cameras was if there were some parts of the document that had been verified and were being used, or potentially usable, as part of a criminal case. His reference elsewhere in his testimony to “salacious and unverified” material in the dossier almost certainly alludes to the off-the-wall stuff in the document, most infamously the claim about Trump’s alleged activities with Russian hookers. But the material about Carter Page? Not so salacious. And, maybe, not unverified.
And so, the big question. If it was easy enough for Frey to track down what Comey actually said based on public transcripts, why does Nunes’s Memo insist on implying that Comey claimed the entire dossier was unverified? And if we can’t trust Nunes to be square with us on that, how can we trust his other claims?
Another question, via Gabe Malor. If Nunes was comfortable (mis)quoting Comey, among other people, in the Memo, why is the bombshell revelation in the above excerpt about what Andrew McCabe supposedly said to Congress paraphrased rather than directly quoted as well? McCabe’s precise words are hugely consequential given the confusion over whether the dossier was treated by the FBI as a lead or whether it was the bulk of the evidence itself. It’s potentially no great shakes to say that the Bureau wouldn’t have *sought* a warrant against Page without the dossier, since that may only mean that the dossier inspired an independent investigation by the FBI. It’s big news, though, if McCabe testified that the warrant was granted by the FISA Court based on little more than the dossier itself.
So which was it? GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin implies that it was the latter:
The Times, though, has a sneak peek at the Democratic counter-memo, which — surprise — says Nunes’s Memo is misleading on this point:
[T]he people familiar with the Democratic memo said that Republicans had distorted what Mr. McCabe told the intelligence committee about the importance of the information from Mr. Steele. Mr. McCabe presented the material as part of a constellation of compelling evidence that raised serious suspicions about Mr. Page, the two people said. The evidence included contacts Mr. Page had in 2013 with a Russian intelligence operative.
Mr. Page’s contacts with the Russian operative led to an investigation of Mr. Page that year, including a wiretap on him, another person familiar with the matter said.
Mr. McCabe told the committee that the decision to seek a FISA warrant was also prompted by Russian attempts to target Mr. Papadopoulos, a trip Mr. Page took to Moscow in July 2016 and the Russian hacking of Democratic emails that appeared to be aimed at harming the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, the two people familiar with the Democratic memo said.
So the dossier was part of the picture presented to the FISA Court but not the entire picture, as we might have guessed. Without seeing the FISA application itself, it’s impossible to get a sense of how heavily the dossier weighed in the full balance of the evidence. How about at least publishing the transcript of McCabe’s congressional testimony, though? Is that too much to ask? Zeldin reminds us that of course the testimony was recorded and could have been recounted verbatim in the Memo. Surely Trump would have agreed to declassify a redacted version of it if it’s as damning as the Memo implies. So where is it? Why quote Comey but not McCabe when McCabe’s revelation is arguably even more important?
One more tidbit from the Times:
But a Democratic memo written to rebut the Republican document says that the F.B.I. was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say. The F.B.I. told the court that the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated, although the agency did not specifically identify the information as financed by Democrats, according to two people familiar with the Democratic memo.
Here’s what the Memo said about that. Was Nunes being slippery here too?
Nunes notes that the feds never told the FISA Court that it was Hillary and the Democrats who were financing Steele’s probe … but it doesn’t say that they never told the FISA Court that the dossier was a product of political bias. To put that another way, what if the FBI told the judge that the dossier was in fact oppo research without specifying who paid for it and why?
FISA experts quoted by the Times and elsewhere appear to agree that so long as the feds made clea that the dossier was a product of political bias, it’s no big deal if they didn’t specify who bankrolled it. That argument seems less credible to me than it normally would given the unique political circumstances of the Russiagate investigation, with one major-party presidential nominee being targeted in part with research financed by the other nominee, but the key concern is making sure the Court knew that there was some political motivation behind the material so that it could discount it accordingly in assessing probable cause. *If* it’s true that the FBI told the FISA judge that the dossier was oppo research then the Memo is also misleading on that critical point. Sure would be nice if we had that FISA application in front of us so that we could judge for ourselves.
Here’s Chris Wallace on Fox this afternoon getting it right, I think. The possibility that the FBI withheld information about the dossier’s provenance from the Court is a big deal, but it’s only a possibility. I don’t know how we’re going to end up getting to the truth.