- Democrats released their rebuttal memo to the infamous Nunes memo on Saturday, pushing back against Republican allegations of surveillance abuse by the FBI and Department of Justice.
- The rebuttal said the DOJ provided ample evidence to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when seeking a FISA warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser.
- It disputed claims that the DOJ and FBI relied extensively on the so-called Steele dossier when applying for the warrant, and the Nunes memo’s characterization of a key former FBI official’s testimony before Congress.
- It also contained material evidence that the DOJ disclosed the political nature of the Steele dossier’s funding to the FISA court.
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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released their 10-page rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo.
The Democratic memo was drafted by ranking member Adam Schiff, after Rep. Devin Nunes, the committee’s chairman, first authored a memo alleging that the Department of Justice and FBI overstepped their surveillance authority when applying for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant targeting Carter Page, a former adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Here are the Democratic memo’s key claims:
- The DOJ provided ample evidence when applying for the FISA warrant to surveil Page, and relied very narrowly on the so-called Steele dossier, contrary to the Nunes memo’s assertion.
- The DOJ informed the FISA court that the Russia investigation was opened after the FBI learned of an interaction during which a Trump campaign adviser boasted that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
- The DOJ made the FISA court aware on multiple occasions of the Steele dossier’s politically motivated funding.
- The DOJ did not include a Yahoo News report in the FISA application in an effort to corroborate the dossier’s findings, but to show that Page had made several public denials about his Russia contacts.
Among other things, the Democratic memo accuses Nunes of cherry-picking information to misrepresent the intelligence community’s work and discredit the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference.
It asserts that, contrary to the Nunes memo’s claim that the DOJ breached proper protocol when applying for the Page warrant, the agency “met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed” to establish probable cause to monitor Page’s communications.
According to the Democrats’ memo, the DOJ provided the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court with “contemporaneous evidence” of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election; information about “concerning Russian links and outreach to Trump campaign officials,”; Page’s history with Russia-linked individuals and entities; and Page’s “suspicious activities in 2016,” including those during a trip he took to Moscow in July of that year, during which he met with high-ranking Russian officials.
In a statement from the White House on Saturday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump supported the Democratic memo’s release “in the interest of transparency.”
But she added that the memo failed to address Republicans’ “concerns about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign.”
Rebuttal memo: The Steele dossier ‘did not inform’ FBI’s decision to launch Russia probe
The memo disputed one of the key pillars of Republican claims of bias in the Russia investigation: that the FBI relied extensively on the so-called Steele dossier, an explosive and unverified collection of memos alleging Trump-Russia collusion that was authored by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.
The raw intelligence Steele obtained “did not inform the FBI’s decision” to open the Russia investigation in July 2016, the Democratic memo said.
Rather, the memo said, the DOJ informed the FISA court that the FBI launched its investigation after learning of an interaction which took place in May 2016 between a top Australian diplomat and Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. During that meeting, Papadopoulos boasted about Russia’s “kompromat” on then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton while drinking at a swanky London bar.
The Nunes memo pointed to the inclusion of the Papadopoulos information in the Page FISA application and asserted that there was “no evidence of any cooperation of conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos.”
But the DOJ did not include information about Papadopoulos in its Page application to suggest the two men were coordinating. Rather, counterintelligence veterans said following the Nunes memo’s release that officials likely included the Papadopoulos information to demonstrate the extent of Russia’s election interference.
The Democratic memo said as much.
“Papadopoulos’ interaction with Russian agents, coupled with real-time evidence of Russian election interference, provided the Court with a broader context in which to evaluate Russia’s clandestine activities and Page’s history and alleged contact with Russian officials,” the document said.
By the time it received Steele’s dossier in September 2016, the FBI had already been investigating Russia’s election meddling for two months and had begun looking into possible ties between Trump campaign officials – like Page – and Russian actors.
The dossier also did not make up the sole basis for the DOJ’s application for the Page warrant; in fact, the memo said, the DOJ “cited multiple sources” to support its case and “made only narrow use” of Steele’s intelligence, most of which was related to Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016.
Page met with several top Russian officials during the trip, according to his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last year. Page said that in addition to meeting with members of Russia’s presidential administration, he also interacted with Igor Sechin, one of the heads of Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft during the trip.
During the meeting, Sechin raised the possibility of lifting US sanctions on Russia if Trump became president, according to a September 23, 2016 Yahoo News article by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff. The dossier alleges that Sechin offered Page a 19% stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifting US sanctions on Russia. Page left the Trump campaign after news reports of the meeting surfaced in September 2016 and denied the claims about his Russia meetings that had been published.
- Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
The Nunes memo referenced the article, saying: “The article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News.”
The Democratic rebuttal states that the DOJ mentioned the Isikoff article in addition to another article, which the Nunes memo did not include. But the DOJ’s purpose in including the news reports was not to corroborate its findings, but rather to demonstrate to the FISA court that Page had denied his July 2016 Russia meetings both publicly, as well as in a letter to then FBI director James Comey on September 25, 2016, according to the Democratic memo.
When Schiff asked Page during his testimony whether Andrey Baranov, who is the head of investor relations at Rosneft, brought up “a potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft” during the July trip, Page replied, “He may have briefly mentioned it.”
Page added that he did “not directly” express support for the idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for a stake in Rosneft.
In addition to information about Page’s Moscow trip, the DOJ also provided the FISA court with other evidence suggesting Page misled the committee during his testimony under oath, the Democratic memo said.
The dossier also said an “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. Ivanov, confided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, [Igor] Diveykin (nfd) also had met secretly with Page on his recent visit.”
According to that official in the dossier, Igor Diveykin, who is a senior Kremlin official, told Page that the Kremlin had a dossier of dirt on Clinton that it wanted to give the Trump campaign.
The allegation, Schiff’s memo said, caught the FBI’s attention because it appeared to align with what Papadopoulos was told by other Russian individuals in 2016.
Outside of its reliance on Steele’s information about Page’s July 2016 Moscow trip, the Democratic memo said the DOJ “did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump,” for the FISA warrant.
The DOJ made it clear to the FISA court that the Steele dossier was politically motivated
The memo also confirms news reports which said earlier this month that despite the Nunes memo’s claims, the DOJ made the FISA court aware on multiple occasions of Steele’s background and credibility, and the political motivations behind the dossier’s funding.
It was originally financed by a group of Republicans who opposed Trump during the Republican primaries. After Trump became the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired the Perkins Coie law firm, which in turn retained the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS to fund the dossier’s production.
Nunes and other Trump loyalists in Congress have accused the DOJ of omitting the fact that the dossier was funded, specifically, by the Clinton campaign. However, the Democratic memo said, the DOJ purposefully refrained from disclosing particular names and identities to avoid “unmasking” individuals and entities unless they were the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.
Indeed, according to a portion of the DOJ’s explanation to the court regarding the dossier’s political funding that was included in the rebuttal memo, the agency said Steele was “approached by an identified U.S. Person” who asked him to look into “Candidate #1’s ties to Russia.” The DOJ added that the FBI “speculates that the identified U.S. Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”
“U.S. Person” referred to Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn Simpson, with whom Steele had “a longstanding business relationship,” and “Candidate #1” referred to Trump, though neither names were unmasked.
Despite its use of “generic identifiers” for the individuals and entities listed, the DOJ “provided the Court with more than sufficient information to understand the political context of Steele’s research,” the memo said.
In addition to disclosing the political motivations behind Steele’s research, the DOJ also outlined the former British spy’s long history as an FBI informant and status as a credible source of intelligence who had provided information the DOJ had used in criminal proceedings.
The FBI also made clear to the court that Steele was not let go as a source because the information he provided was inaccurate, but because he made “unauthorized disclosures” to the media in September 2016. After Steele told the FBI of his contacts with members of the media in late October of that year, the agency terminated him as a source.
The Democratic memo also disputes Republican claims that the FBI paid Steele for his Russia-related research. Steele had been paid in the past for his research. But according to the FBI’s records and testimony the committee obtained, though the FBI initially considered paying Steele for the Russia dossier, the transaction was later cancelled and never made, the memo said.
Multiple renewals of the Page warrant
The DOJ first applied for a warrant to surveil Page on October 21, 2016, according to both the Nunes memo and the Schiff memo. The documents say that the application was subsequently renewed – after being signed off on by multiple judges and senior DOJ officials – on three separate occasions, in early January 2017, early April 2017, and late June 2017. The renewed warrant allowed the FBI to continue monitoring Page until September 2017.
That the FISA court approved multiple renewals of the Page warrant, the Democratic memo said, indicated that the FBI “collected important investigative information and leads” in the Russia probe. The document then lays out two pieces of evidence the DOJ presented to that effect, though both were redacted.
The Democratic memo noted that when seeking renewals of the Page FISA warrant, the DOJ provided separate intelligence obtained from independent sources that appeared to corroborate Steele’s findings.
The specifics of what evidence the DOJ provided were redacted, but were related to Page’s ties to Russian officials and entities that stretch back to the early 2000s and the Russians’ attempts to recruit Page as an unwitting agent in 2013 and earlier.
Read the memo: