So today is the big day, when the Republican Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes, had his infamous #memo released to the public, under order from the President. The #memo (which I will continue to refer to as #memo given the insane Twitter campaign to assure its release) is 4 pages of detail about purported abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) involving the FBI, Department of Justice, and various members of the Obama administration. Please read the #memo for yourself before forming your opinion of its conclusions, as nearly all of the articles you will read today will come to a conclusion for you.
What I will say after reading the #memo for myself is that it was overhyped and underdelivered on its promises of destroying the Russia investigation, proving that the FISA Court was biased against the President, and showing that the largely DNC-funded Steele dossier was the source of the investigation in the first place. It did show some serious issues with the FISA process, yet based on prior case law analysis, these issues may not actually be as bad as they appear in the #memo. The main issue the #memo presents is that the FISA order to surveil Carter Page was based on biased information paid for by Trump’s campaign opponents, yet it is clear from 4th Amendment precedent that not all biased informant information is unusable by criminal or civil investigations. The #memo conveniently omits the fact that Mr. Page was under surveillance since 2014, far earlier than he joined the Trump campaign. The #memo also reveals that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election actually began with information on another Trump campaign staffer, George Papadopoulos, in July 2016 (#5 in the #memo).
There is some information in the #memo that is genuinely troubling to me, based solely on the information that is presented. One such area is paragraph #2 in the #memo, which details how Christopher Steele, the source of the dossier on Trump, was terminated by the FBI as an informant due to his sloppy disclosure of key facts to media members prior to the election in 2016. This type of unauthorized disclosure does make Steele look less professional and reliable in my eyes. There is also a quote from Steele in paragraph #3 in which he states that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This quote, although completely devoid of context in the #memo, is disturbing and again lowers the quality of the source in my eyes.
Besides those conclusions, I feel that the #memo was not very useful to me in better understanding the Russia investigation, as it presented facts in a context-free environment. The public needs to see the underlying FISA information to actually understand if this #memo presents a factual or partisan view of the true state of affairs. This FISA application should be declassified as soon as possible and released to the public, insofar as it does not harm national security. The Democratic version of the #memo should also be released, so the public can hear the arguments from both sides of the aisle.
One major thing that is being overlooked in the coverage of the #memo is the very recent vote to fully renew the FISA law which actually authorizes American intelligence services to collect this sort of data on American citizens (a vote I agree with). The vote occurred just a few weeks ago, and some new restrictions were proposed to limit the power of the intelligence community and perhaps avoid some of the issues that purportedly occurred in this case. The vote to restrict the FISA law failed in the House of Representatives, and the clean reauthorization for FISA passed, allowing the government to continue on the same path that Chairman Nunes decries in his #memo. The interesting thing, however, is that Chairman Nunes himself voted against limitations on FISA and for the clean reauthorization of the law. This all happened after he had the knowledge detailed in the #memo. You would think that these supposedly awful abuses of intelligence gathering would make Nunes a crusader against FISA reauthorization, but he was wholeheartedly for renewal.
Just some food for thought as you read more about the #memo today.