Among the details hidden away in the controversial memo authored by Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is the fact that the Justice Department had reason to believe that Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, was a Russian agent, according to a report in The New York Times today.
The classified memo has been a major Republican talking point the last few weeks as party leaders try to protect the President from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation by spreading doubt about the impartiality of the FBI agents involved in the investigation. Since the memo contains classified information it can not be shared with the public without either de-classifying the sensitive contents or violating the law.
Amongst the few Democrats who have seen the memo, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) says that the memo skews the intelligence upon which it is based and is writing his own memo to counterbalance what he calls a transparent effort to discredit Mueller’s investigation.
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One detail from the memo that has already leaked out is the fact that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved a FISA application to continue surveillance on Page shortly after Rosenstein took over as the Justice Department official overseeing the investigation once Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself because of his own misleading answers to questions over his contacts with Russsian diplomats.
The memo apparently alleges that Rosenstein and the FBI did not adequately explain to the judge that they were partly relying on info from the infamous “Steele dossier” compiled by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele. The dossier was partially paid for by the Clinton campaign, although it has its origins in opposition research funded by Trump’s Republican primary opponents.
Now, Democrats believe that Republicans will try to use the information in the memo to give Trump an excuse to fire Rosenstein and install a more friendly, less impartial, figure to oversee Mueller’s probe. The Justice Department and the FBI oppose the release of the classified memo because they have not seen it and haven’t vetted the document’s classified info to determine whether its release would jeopardize ongoing investigations or proprietary surveillance methods.
Carter Page, the subject of the surveillance warrant, was an oil industry consultant who lived in worked in Russia for a period and was reportedly recruited by Russian intelligence operatives as early as 2013. With a history of association with Russia, Page was a logical target for a FISA warrant allowing the FBI to monitor his communications.
Any Republican claiming the FBI was biased in obtaining a warrant against this particular American citizen will have a high barrier of skepticism to overcome, given Page’s history with Russia and his known contacts. None of that will stop them from trying, however.