Congressional Democrats released their long-awaited rebuttal to GOP Congressman Devin Nunes controversial and overhyped memo, which alleged abuses by the FBI and Justice Department at the beginning of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. The newly White House-approved memo, which was released while Nunes spoke at the annual CPAC conference on Saturday, can be read in full at the bottom of this post.
The memo, though full of redactions, largely says what everyone expected it would say: that the Nunes memo omitted or ignored information which invalidated its arguments, and that, in fact, federal law enforcement officials “did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”
The release of the rebuttal had originally been held up by the White House, as they said that a DOJ/FBI review had concluded that some of the classified information in the memo could not be disclosed to the public. The rebuttal memo was then sent back to the House Intelligence Committee so that it could be revised. Ultimately, however, it seems that the memo released on Saturday was not approved by President Trump or the White House, as it was revised in such a way that it no longer had to be. Politico reporter Kyle Chesney pointed out on Sunday morning that the DOJ/FBI simply redacted all the information in the memo that was classified.
Below are some of the key takeaways:
• One of the Nunes memo’s central claims was that federal law enforcement officials did not disclose the political motivations behind the infamous Steele dossier when using it to apply for a FISA warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. But the Democratic memo insists that the court was in fact informed that Christopher Steele “was hired by politically motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared intended for use ‘to discredit’ Trump’s campaign,” according to the FBI’s speculation (Pages 5-6). The rebuttal doesn’t say that the court was specifically told that Democrats helped fund the dossier, but makes it clear that the anti-Trump bias was sufficiently disclosed — not that President Trump either cares, or understands, why that matters:
• The rebuttal also explains that, while Republicans have framed the Steele dossier as the crucial piece of evidence leading to the surveillance of Page, Steele’s sources were only used in a “narrow” way for the FISA application, in addition to citing “multiple” other sources. The Democrats also assert that the investigation of Page would have continued with or without the dossier or the FISA warrant. They add, as we already knew, that Page had long been suspected of connections to Russia. They also say that the FISA application and renewals pointed to suspicious activity by Page while he was a member of the Trump campaign. (Pages 3 and 4)
• Furthermore, the Democratic memo indicates that at least some of the Steele dossier’s findings were later corroborated by “multiple independent sources” in subsequent FISA renewals, though what details were corroborated has been maddeningly redacted in the new memo. (Page 5)
• The rebuttal claims that the FISA court-approved surveillance of Page allowed the FBI “to collect valuable intelligence” which Democrats say amounted to “important investigative information and leads.” The memo also says that the intelligence contradicted Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. (Page 5)
• According to the Democratic memo, all four judges on the FISA court who approved the initial surveillance on Page, as well as the judges who approved the three renewals of that warrant, were appointed by Republican presidents. This further undercuts the GOP’s claims of some kind of hidden partisan bias. (Page 3)
• Per an eagle-eyed Twitter user who caught what appears to be a redaction error on Page 3 of the rebuttal, the memo may also reveal that by the time the Steele dossier made it to the FBI, the agency already had at least four (and possibly five) sub-inquiries into individuals linked to the Trump campaign, including Page.
• The rebuttal additionally claims that the Justice Department did not misuse news coverage in its court filings, as alleged by the Nunes memo with regard to a Yahoo News article that was based on information leaked by Steele. Rather than the article being used to corroborate the Steele dossier, as Republicans claimed, it was actually used, along with another article that the GOP memo didn’t cite, to “inform the Court of Page’s public denial” of his meetings in Moscow that year. (Page 7)
Here’s the full rebuttal memo:
This post has been updated to incorporate analysis of the memo, as well as clarify that neither President Trump or the White House ultimately had to approve this version of the memo, since all classified information was redacted. This post originally stated that the memo had been approved by the White House.