President Trump on Saturday dismissed a Democratic rebuttal to the GOP memo outlining government surveillance abuses in the 2016 campaign as a “total political and legal bust,” claiming that it only confirms the ”terrible things” that were done by the nation’s intelligence agencies.
The rebuttal, written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, concluded that officials at the FBI and Justice Department “did not abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”
“Congressman Schiff omitted and distorted key facts” @FoxNews So, what else is new. He is a total phony!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2018
Here are seven key problems with the claims made inside the Democrats’ rebuttal memo.
1 – The House Democratic rebuttal opens with a seemingly deceptive statement that Steele’s dossier “did not inform” the FBI’s decision to start its investigation into Trump’s campaign in late July.
This is the first contention in the rebuttal, which relates it is trying to “correct the record.” However, the Republican memo did not assert that the dossier informed the FBI’s decision to launch its investigation in late July or anytime. Instead, the GOP memo documented that Steele’s dossier formed an “essential part” of the FISA court applications submitted by Obama-era federal agencies to monitor the communications of Carter Page, who briefly served as a volunteer foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, even though House Democrats seem to be rebutting a contention that was not made in the Republican memo, there are possible issues with the rebuttal’s claim that the FBI’s investigative team only received Steele’s “reporting” in mid-September, ostensibly referring to the written dossier. The Democrats entirely ignore that last July, Steele reportedly traveled to Rome, where he met with an FBI contact to supply the agency with alleged information he found during the course of his anti-Trump work. The Washington Post reported that Steele met with the FBI on July 5, 2016. The Democratic memo reveals that the DOJ “accurately informed the court that that the FBI initiated its counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016.” That is 26 days after Steele met with the FBI in Rome.
2 – While perhaps not intending to, the Democratic memo actually confirms that the Obama Justice Department did use Steele’s largely discredited dossier for FISA court applications to monitor Page.
The memo contains a sentence stating that “as DOJ informed the court in subsequent renewals”; but the rest of that sentence is redacted. The next sentence states that “Steele’s reporting about Page’s Moscow meeting,” with the remainder of that sentence also redacted. The next sentence states that “DOJ’s applications did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump…” The word “otherwise” indicates that, according to the Democratic memo, DOJ did indeed rely on Steele’s dossier for something.
As a side note, interestingly, the Democrats only use the term “salacious” regarding the dossier, not fully quoting from former FBI Director James Comey’s famous remarks in which he testified that the anti-Trump dossier contained “salacious and unverified” material.
Meanwhile, the Democratic rebuttal goes on to cite specific instances of the FISA applications utilizing Steele’s dossier, with the applications citing Steele’s alleged sources reporting that Page took meetings in Russia.
In a clear attempt to minimize the importance of the dossier, the Democratic memo refers to a 2013 case in which Russian agents allegedly targeted Page for recruitment. In that case, Page was identified in court documents made public as “Male-1” in reference to a case involving three Russian men identified as Russian intelligence agents. The spy ring was accused of seeking information on U.S. sanctions as well as methods of developing alternate sources of energy. The FBI court filings describe “the attempted use of Male-1 as an intelligence source for Russia,” but Page was not accused of having been successfully recruited or spying. The court documents cite no evidence that “Male-1” knew he was talking with alleged Russian agents. That the Obama-era federal agencies needed to still use the dossier in light of that 2013 case may show that the 2013 episode was not enough to obtain a FISA warrant on Page. Steele’s dossier contains claims of updated meetings between Page and Russians that went into the year 2016.
The House Republican memo and a subsequent criminal referral authored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) both state that the FISA applications relied heavily on the dossier. Grassley and Graham both reviewed the original FISA applications.
The Grassley-Graham memo relates (emphasis added):
On March 17, 2017, the Chairman and Ranking Member were provided copies of the two relevant FISA applications, which requested authority to conduct surveillance on Carter Page. Both relied heavily on Mr. Steele’s dossier claims, and both applications were granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In December of 2017, the Chairman, Ranking Member and Subcommittee Chairman Graham were allowed to review a total of four FISA applications relying on the dossier to seek surveillance of Mr. Carter Page, as well as numerous other documents relating to Mr. Steele.
Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were – the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2018
3 – The rebuttal leaves out key information that may dispute the Democratic document’s claim that the FISA warrant was “not used to spy on Trump or his campaign.”
The rebuttal claims this is the case because Page “ended his affiliation with the campaign months before DOJ applied for a warrant.” This is misleading. The FISA warrant givesaccess to phone calls, email, web browsing history and other electronic records, meaning agents can retrieve any emails or recorded communications from the period Page was affiliated with the campaign and would be able to access any recorded communications with the campaign from that period. Also, according to reports, the FBI monitored Page while he spoke to then-Trump adviser Steve Bannon about Russia in January 2017.
4 – The rebuttal tries to give legitimacy to the possibly illicit surveillance of Page by noting that two of the presiding federal judges were appointed by President George W. Bush and one by President Ronald Reagan.
However, the Republicans’ issue has never been claims of partisanship on behalf of the judges, but rather the charge that key information was withheld from the judges, primarily the origins of the dossier, which was produced by the controversial Fusion GPS and paid for by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Republicans also charge that the FISA court was not told about credibility issues related to Steele.
5 – The Democratic memo raises immediate questions about the possible use of a second dossier authored by Cody Shearer, a shadowy former tabloid journalist who has long been closely associated with various Clinton scandals