A central pillar of Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo alleging wrongdoing by the FBI – that the government did not disclose the political bias of a source when seeking a surveillance warrant – is unfounded, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff told reporters Friday.
The memo alleges that ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who authored an opposition research dossier on Trump that was used to obtain a FISA warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, harbored anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations, including that the dossier was funded in part by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The memo claims those motivations were not included in the FISA application even though senior Justice Department officials knew about Steele’s alleged anti-Trump bias.
President Donald Trump repeated the claim in a pair of tweets Saturday night that quoted and paraphrased a Wall Street Journal editorial.
“‘The four page memo released Friday reports the disturbing fact about how the FBI and FISA appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath….,’” Trump wrote. “’The FBI failed to inform the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had funded the dossier….the FBI became…….a tool of anti-Trump political actors. This is unacceptable in a democracy and ought to alarm anyone who wants the FBI to be a nonpartisan enforcer of the law….The FBI wasn’t straight with Congress, as it hid most of these facts from investigators.’”
Schiff disputed the GOP memo’s assertion as “not accurate,” saying the court was aware that there was a “likely political motivation” behind the Steele dossier. The California Democrat also said it is normal in FISA applications not to name individuals who may be sources of information.
The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported after the memo’s release that the FISA court was aware of political motivations behind the dossier.
According to an official cited in the Post on Friday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, the Justice Department presented “ample disclosure of relevant, material facts,” to the FISA court, including that “the research was being paid for by a political entity.”
The New York Times also reported Friday that the FISA court was told about political motivations behind the dossier. A Democratic memo written to rebut the allegations in Nunes’ document said the FBI did, in fact, tell the court that the information in the Steele dossier was politically motivated, even if the bureau didn’t mention that research that went into the dossier was paid for by Democrats, the Times reported, citing two people familiar with the Democratic memo.
The Wall Street Journal further reported that, according to a person familiar with the matter, the FISA application disclosed that Steele was paid by a law firm working for a major political party,
Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, tweeted Saturday that the news reports served as “proof that the #mehmo deliberately misrepresented the record to make the #FISA application look shadier than it was” and called the revelations “(f)atal to the memo’s entire premise.”
“I don’t find these reports at all surprising, because it would’ve been the responsible thing for the government to say, especially if, as appears to be the case, there was a lot of additional evidence not derived from the dossier that was part of the underlying application,” Vladeck later said in an email. “It all just further undermines not just the specific conclusions of the Nunes memo, but the larger point it’s being invoked by the President and his supporters to make.”
The Nunes memo – the most explicit Republican effort yet to discredit the FBI’s investigation into Trump and Russia – has drawn criticism from Democrats as well as some Republicans, who say it is politically motivated, and also from the FBI, which warned it omitted key facts that could affect its veracity.
There are currently multiple investigations looking into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, including a probe by the House Intelligence Committee, on which Nunes serves as chairman.
On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted about Nunes’ memo, saying it “totally vindicates” him, and called the Russia investigation “an American disgrace!”
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” Trump wrote. “But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!”
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.