House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) admitted yesterday that a central claim of his controversial memo was not true. In the memo detailing the FISA surveillance warrants obtained for former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, Nunes had claimed that the FBI did not acknowledge the political nature of the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele at the behest of the
Hillary Clinton campaign. Yesterday, Nunes admitted that the FBI had in fact done so in a footnote.
Politico reports that Republican leaders have now acknowledged that the FBI included references to the dossier’s political origins in a footnote on the original application for a FISA surveillance warrant. Democrats accused Republicans of committing the very sin that they had accused the FBI of, namely cherry-picking information for political reasons.
Nunes responded to the revelation about the footnote on “Fox and Friends,” saying, “A footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign.”
However, Nunes’ claim that the FBI’s admission of political bias in the dossier was too vague is itself a far cry from the claim in the
original memo that the FBI did not disclose the political nature of the documents at all. “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,” the memo stated.
There are other inconsistencies in the Nunes memo as well. For instance, despite Nunes’ claim, there is no evidence that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign. The FISA warrant was applied for in October 2016, a month after Page left his role as a Trump campaign advisor.
The memo also misquotes former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony about the dossier. The memo refers to Comey’s alleged statement that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.” Politifact points out that the comment referred to “some personally sensitive aspects of the information” contained in the dossier’s memos rather than the full dossier.
Further, the Nunes memo acknowledges that the FISA warrant for Page was renewed three times and that “each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause.” However, the memo does not describe other evidence against Page that was used in the original application or the subsequent renewals.
The inconsistency between the original claim that the FBI did not disclose the political bias of the evidence against Page and the later claim that the FBI followed the proper procedure but was not clear enough in its disclosure is a major blow to the credibility of Nunes and his memo. The claim that the FBI did not follow the law in obtaining the warrant against Page was a central argument in Republican attacks on the FBI.
There will be further revelations. The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously this morning to release an 11-page Democrat rebuttal to the Nunes memo. The Democrat memo must follow the same process of declassification by the president that the Nunes memo went through.
The central question is whether the FBI followed the letter of the law in the application for the FISA warrants. The only way to resolve that issue is for President Trump to declassify the unedited versions of the applications and let Americans see the truth for themselves.