WaPo: Say, about that Schiff rebuttal to the Nunes memo ...

James Comey made the most public claim of vindication after the publication of Michael Horowitz’ inspector general report on Operation Crossfire Hurricane, a claim Horowitz shot down a couple of days later. “The activities we found here,” Horowitz intoned, “don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.” It might, however, vindicate one of the first voices to call out the FBI for its reckless and perhaps biased behavior — Devin Nunes.


Almost two years ago, the then-chair of the House Intelligence Committee issued a memo detailing what he said was stunning abuse of the FISA process when it came to Carter Page, among other fundamental problems in Crossfire Hurricane. Now-chair Adam Schiff issued a detailed rebuttal, one that convinced many in the media that Nunes was somehow corrupted by his support for Donald Trump and attempting to undermine Robert Mueller’s investigation.

How does that stack up now? The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake rereads both memos and concludes that Nunes turned out to be closer to the truth than most credited at the time:

The Fix annotated the Nunes memo back in early 2018. We also wrote skeptically about some of the GOP arguments based on it, many of which are not backed up by Horowitz’s report.

But how much is the Nunes memo itself vindicated? A fair amount, it turns out — at least, in Horowitz’s estimation.

That’s an odd qualifier. Whose estimation matters more at this point? Horowitz conducted a full IG probe into these matters and has documentary and testimonial evidence of how the FBI conducted Operation Crossfire Hurricane. The only person who might get more information than Horowitz would be John Durham, whose criminal investigation will have more jurisdiction, scope, and depth than an IG review has, but what Horowitz has found is well documented.


And Blake makes clear that Schiff’s claims in rebuttal to Nunes get pretty much demolished by Horowitz, with perhaps one caveat. Schiff claimed that the FISA warrant applications on Page “met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet probable cause requirement,” which Blake calls  “the worst line of the Democrats’ rebuttal.”

Horowitz found there were indeed numerous errors and omissions in the FISA applications. “We identified at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications, and many additional errors in the Woods Procedures,” he wrote. “These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information to [the Justice Department National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence] and failing to flag important issues for discussion.” Horowitz also found that a now-former FBI lawyer altered a document to make it look like Page wasn’t a source for another government agency, when in fact he was — a fact that could have been exculpatory for Page.

Actually, just that one fact alone would have likely forced the court to order surveillance of Page stopped. That’s why the FBI attorney falsified the document, which goes a very long way to vindicating the overall thrust of Nunes’ memo — that the investigation itself was corrupt.


On the issue of misrepresenting the importance of the now-discredited Steele dossier, Blake writes that “there is some real nuance here,” but there really isn’t:

Nunes memo: “The dossier … formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application. … Furthermore, Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.”

Democrats’ rebuttal: “DOJ 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 July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials. … DOJ’s applications did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump.”

Horowitz’s finding: There is some real nuance here. Here’s what Horowitz said: “We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order,” which had previously been entertained but ultimately shelved. At another point, Horowitz writes that the fourth element of the initial FISA application — on Page’s alleged coordination with the Russian government related to the 2016 campaign — “relied entirely on” information from the Steele dossier.

The Nunes memo says the Steele dossier was an “essential part of the Carter Page FISA application,” but Horowitz only says it was “central and essential” to the decision to seek the FISA order, which is a notable distinction. The Democrats’ rebuttal, on the other hand, seems to be technically accurate. But you could argue that Page’s alleged work with the Russian government on 2016 election issues was a very significant part of the reason for surveilling him. And Steele’s was the only such information used on that allegation.


Actually, Horowitz makes this point very clear and not nuanced at all. Before the FBI got the Steele dossier, their managers and/or attorneys shot down the investigator’s efforts to seek a FISA warrant. Only after getting the Steele dossier — and misrepresenting it in seven distinct ways — did the FBI and DoJ approve of the warrant application. The rest of the detail might be interesting, but it’s clear from both Horowitz’ report and his testimony that the Steele dossier and its misrepresentations acted as the catalyst for the FBI’s permission to spy on Page.

The final two points are less critical to Nunes’ concerns in his memo, but are still sustained by the Horowitz report. Schiff had claimed that the FBI did tell the FISA judge that Steele was “hired by politically-motivated U.S. persons and entities,” but Horowitz says that this was in a footnote — and the FBI omitted specific knowledge of the source of that funding in later applications despite knowing that it was the Clinton campaign and/or the DNC paying for it. That’s precisely what Nunes alleged. Horowitz also confirmed that the FBI falsely represented to the court that they had concluded that Steele didn’t leak information to Yahoo News:

[The FBI] failed to correct the assertion in the first FISA application that the FBI did not believe that Steele directly provided information to the reporter who wrote the September 23 Yahoo News article, even though there was no information in the Woods File to support this claim and even after certain Crossfire Hurricane officials learned in 2017, before the third renewal application, of an admission that Steele made in a court filing about his interactions with the news media in the late summer and early fall of 2016.


Blake writes that the significance of the Yahoo News issue isn’t clear, nor does Horowitz “dwell on that.” The point, however, is that the FBI misrepresented it to the court in order to protect its surveillance warrant on Page. These are a series of corrupt acts that go to the heart of whether Operation Crossfire Hurricane was a corrupt investigation. That is precisely the issue about which Nunes warned in his memo, and the Horowitz report corroborates each of the factual claims Nunes made in that warning.

It certainly looks as though Nunes can claim a very large amount of vindication. The media, on the other hand, should be asking itself why it found Schiff so credible in his defense of secret surveillance of a US citizen by counterintelligence operations on the basis of a discredited oppo research file. Is it that they just preferred Schiff’s anti-Trump narrative above all other considerations?

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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024