FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says
On October 21, 2016, DOJ and FBI sought and received a FISA probable cause order (not under Title VII) authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. Page is a U.S. citizen who served as a volunteer advisor to the Trump presidential campaign. Consistent with requirements under FISA, the application had to be first certified by the Director or Deputy Director of the FBI. It then required the approval of the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General (DAG), or the Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division.
The FBI and DOJ obtained one initial FISA warrant targeting Carter Page and three FISA renewals from the FISC. As required by statute (50 U.S.C. §1805(d)(1)), a FISA order on an American citizen must be renewed by the FISC every 90 days and each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause. Then-Director James Comey signed three FISA applications in question on behalf of the FBI, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Then-DAG Sally Yates, then-Acting DAG Dana Boente, and DAG Rod Rosenstein each signed one or more FISA applications on behalf of DOJ.
Our findings indicate that, as described below, material and relevant information was omitted.
The “dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application. Steele was a longtime FBI source who was paid over $160,000 by the DNC and Clinton campaign, via the law firm Perkins Coie and research firm Fusion GPS, to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
What follows is what some have dubbed the “damning section”, as there was no reason not to disclosed the relationship between Clinton and Steele, unless the authors were worried about exposing a clear political link:
a) 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 DOJ and FBI officials.
b) The initial FISA application notes Steele was working for a named U.S. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie) representing the DNC (even though it was known by DOJ at the time that political actors were involved with the Steele dossier). The application does not mention Steele was ultimately working on behalf of—and paid by—the DNC and Clinton campaign, or that the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.
The section above also makes a good case for releasing the underlying FISA application, as either the Clinton connection was disclosed or it wasn’t – not a fact either party can distort.
In a curious twist, in order to corroborate the dossier, the memo reveals that the FBI “extensively” cited a news article — that was based entirely on the dossier. In effect, using the dossier to corroborate the dossier.
The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News. The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News. Steele has admitted in British court filings that he met with Yahoo News—and several other outlets—in September 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS. Perkins Coie was aware of Steele’s initial media contacts because they hosted at least one meeting in Washington D.C. in 2016 with Steele and Fusion GPS where this matter was discussed.
The memo continues revealing more information about Steele and his clear political bias:
Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations—an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI in an October 30, 2016, Mother Jones article by David Corn.
Steele’s numerous encounters with the media violated the cardinal rule of source handling—maintaining confidentiality—and demonstrated that Steele had become a less than reliable source for the FBI.
3) Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorneys General Yates and later Rosenstein. Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele. For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump when Steele said he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This clear evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files—but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.
During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump. Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research, paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS. The Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.
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After Steele was terminated, a source validation report conducted by an independent unit within FBI assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated. Yet, in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier, even though it was – according to his June 2017 testimony – “salacious and unverified.” While the FISA application relied on Steele’s past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters, it ignored or concealed his anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations. Furthermore, Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.
The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok. Strzok was reassigned by the Special Counsel’s Office to FBI Human Resources for improper text messages with his mistress, FBI Attorney Lisa Page (no known relation to Carter Page), where they both demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton, whom Strzok had also investigated. The Strzok/Lisa Page texts also reflect extensive discussions about the investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media, and include a meeting with Deputy Director McCabe to discuss an “insurance” policy against President Trump’s election.
The bottom line: as noted earlier, if found that there was clear undisclosed bias in the launch of surveillance of Trump’s team, then Mueller’s probe – whose findings would be the result of a flawed FISA warrant – would be null and void, leave space for Trump to fire the special prosecutor or Rod Rosenstein.
Incidentally, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump suggested the document shows political bias at the FBI that tainted the probe into whether his campaign cooperated with Russia’s election meddling.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” Trump said of the alleged bias. “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.”
The decision cleared the way for the House Intelligence Committee to release the memo, which it did shortly after noon. “It was declassified and let’s see what happens,” Trump said. White House made no redactions to the document.
Full memo at the bottom:
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Just before noon on Friday, the “FISA” memo compiled by House Intelligence Committee staff, led by chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), from classified documents provided by the Department of Justice, was officially declassified by Trump’s lawyer Donald Gahn – over the objections of the DOJ and the FBI – as explained in the letter below.
According to the Washington Examiner’s Byron York who had access to an early released version, a key point in the memo is that the “salacious and unverified” Steele dossier formed the essential part of the initial and all three renewal applications against Carter Page, in line with what as previously leaked.
As York also explicitly highlights, “The FBI’s Andrew McCabe confirmed to the committee that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.”
This, as Fox News confirms, means that absent the dossier, at least one of the surveillance warrants in the case would not have been obtained, and – by implication – the entire Mueller probe is thus on shaky legal ground.
Back to the memo, which as York adds, “the political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.”
More House Intel memo key point: The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications. http://ow.ly/QCag30iaosG
House Intel memo released: What it says
The House Intelligence Committee has released its controversial memo outlining alleged abuses of secret surveillance by the FBI and Justi…
As Dow Jones confirms, DOJ officials knew Steele was being paid by democrats, and that officials at the DOJ and FBI signed one warrant, and three renewals against Carter Page.
York also notes that DOJ official Bruce Ohr was relayed information about Christopher Steele’s bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.
All else equal, sounds like a clear case of bias, and when extended, it would imply that the entire Mueller probe is based on grounds that could be overturned in court.
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To recap, here are the key points disclosed in the memo, as summarized by the Washington Exmainer which has an early unclassified version of the memo:
- The Steele dossier formed an essential part of the intial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page.
- Andrew McCabe confirmed that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.
- The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.
- DOJ official Bruce Ohr met with Steele beginning in the summer of 2016 and relayed to DOJ information about Steele’s bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.
As a reminder, the FBI and Justice Department mounted a months-long effort to keep the information outlined in the memo out of the House Intelligence Committee’s hands. Only the threat of contempt charges and other forms of pressure forced the FBI and Justice to give up the material.
Once Intelligence Committee leaders and staff compiled some of that information into the memo, the FBI and Justice Department, supported by Capitol Hill Democrats, mounted a ferocious campaign of opposition, saying release of the memo would endanger national security and the rule of law.
But Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes never wavered in his determination to make the information available to the public. President Trump agreed, and, as required by House rules, gave his approval for release.
Finally, the memo released today does not represent the sum total of what House investigators have learned in their review of the FBI and Justice Department Trump-Russia investigation. That means the fight over the memo could be replayed in the future when the Intelligence Committee decides to release more information.
Moments after the announcement that the memo was declassified, Trump spoke to reporters and was asked if the memo makes it more likely that he will fire Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, to which Trump responded.
Full memo below (pdf link):
Begin the spin…
Disputed GOP-Nunes memo released
The public release of the classified document, through a never-before-used committee rule, threatens to further fracture the frayed relationship between the President and his Justice Department and intelligence community, both of which opposed the release of the document, which is based on classified intelligence.
The FBI issued a rare public warning on Wednesday that the memo omits key information that could impact its veracity. The release also raises the question of whether Trump might seek to dismiss his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump signed off on releasing the memo before it was released, and the White House requested no redactions, spokesman Raj Shah said.
Speaking in the Oval Office Friday, Trump implied the memo revealed political bias at the FBI. He said he believed the purported bias was a “disgrace” and said certain people should be “ashamed of themselves.”
Asked whether he retained confidence in Rosenstein or if he planned to fire him, Trump demurred.
“You figure that one out,” Trump said.
Democrats have slammed the memo as an inaccurate and misleading portrait intended to undermine Mueller’s probe. They disputed what the memo concluded about McCabe’s testimony on the dossier as the basis for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant.
“They are mischaracterizing what he said,” said one House Democrat on the committee.
The memo is focused on a warrant granted in October 2016 by the FISA court to monitor former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, as well as the approval of three subsequent renewals.
Even if the dossier was used as part of the application, a FISA renewal indicates that a judge was convinced that the surveillance was yielding information about the target acting as an agent of a foreign power that merited continued monitoring.
Questions about the memo
The memo tries to connect what Republicans believe was a flawed application to monitor Page to the overall counterintelligence investigation into potential collusion between Russians and the Republican campaign.
CNN has reported that the investigation included information from the Australian government, which learned of concerning contact between campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and a professor with connections to the Russian government who had offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton. The memo also doesn’t mention that the FBI had earlier opened an investigation into the Russian intelligence agencies’ hack of the Democratic National Committee.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was in charge during the 2016 campaign, downplayed the significance of the memo Friday.
- Read the disputed memo here
- Who is Devin Nunes?
“That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs,” Comey tweeted.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who vetted the intelligence for the Intelligence Committee in place of Nunes, tweeted that the memo did not discredit Mueller’s investigation.
“As I have said repeatedly, I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not – in any way – discredit his investigation,” Gowdy tweeted. “While this memo raises serious concerns with the FISA process, I have been and remain confident in the overwhelming majority of the men and women serving at the FBI and DOJ.”
The memo alleges that Christopher Steele, the ex-British intelligence agent who wrote the dossier, harbored anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations that were not included in the FISA application, and that senior DOJ officials knew about Steele’s anti-Trump bias.
According to the memo, that Steele told then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in September 2016 that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”
The memo alleges that the FISA application cited a September 2016 Yahoo News article on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow, but the application “incorrectly assesses that Steele did not provide information to Yahoo News.”
“The article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo news,” the memo states.
But the memo then goes on to say that the FBI did not know about Steele’s media contacts, alleging Steele “improperly concealed and lied” to the FBI about his media contacts.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, however, said that the Yahoo News article was not referenced in the FISA application to corroborate Steele.
The memo names former officials in the Obama administration who signed off on the warrants, saying former FBI Director James Comey signed three applications, and McCabe and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates signed at least one.
But the memo also states that Rosenstein — who was elevated under Trump — signed off on at least one FISA application for Page. Dana Boente, who is currently the FBI general counsel and was appointed by Trump’s FBI director, also signed off as well on one or more of the applications.
Democrats dispute memo’s findings
Democrats have slammed the Republican memo as misleading and inaccurate. Schiff called the memo “a shameful effort to discredit” the FBI and Justice Department and an attempt to undermine Mueller’s probe.
“The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information that few members of Congress have seen, and which Chairman Nunes himself chose not to review,” Schiff said. “It fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA application and renewals, and ignores why and how the FBI initiated, and the special counsel has continued, its counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s election interference and links to the Trump campaign.”
But Nunes said in a statement that committee had “discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.”
“It is my hope that the committee’s actions will shine a light on this alarming series of events so we can make reforms that allow the American people to have full faith and confidence in their governing institutions,” Nunes said.
The Steele dossier alleges that Page met senior Russian officials as an emissary of the Trump campaign and discussed quid-pro-quo deals relating to sanctions, business opportunities and Russia’s interference in the election. After Page took a trip to Russia in July 2016, the FBI grew concerned that he had been compromised by Russian operatives, US officials briefed on the matter told CNN.
Page says he never cut any political deals with the Kremlin and says there was nothing illegal in his interactions with Russian officials.
“The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America’s democracy,” Page said in a statement Friday.
Ohr, the Justice Department official who was demoted amid the discovery of his ties to the opposition research firm behind the controversial Trump dossier, figures prominently in the memo.
“Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr,” the memo says. “Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele,” including “clear evidence of Steele’s bias,” according to the memo. “Ohr later provided the FBI will all his wife’s opposition research, paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS. The Ohrs’ relationship with Settle and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from (the FISA court).”
Ohr previously served as an associate deputy attorney general, but was stripped of that position after his meetings with Steele and Simpson became public in December. More recently, Ohr has was removed as head of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces as well.
Escalation of partisan fight over Russia probe
The extraordinary decision to release the classified four-page memo with the obscure House Intelligence Committee rule escalates the partisan fight over the investigations into Russian election meddling and possible collusion. This will likely have major repercussions for the relationship between the Justice Department and Capitol Hill.
The memo was spearheaded by Nunes, who was a member of the Trump transition team, and written by majority committee staff.
The committee voted along party lines to release the memo first to the full House and then to the public on Monday.
At the same time, the committee rejected an effort from Schiff to also make public a 10-page Democratic counter-memo. The committee voted to release that memo to the full House, and Schiff plans to push for its release next week.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Evan Perez, Laura Jarrett, Jim Sciutto, Elizabeth Landers and Dan Merica contributed to this report.