With the news cycle shifting from the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to the Florida school shootings last week, the public may have briefly forgotten the brouhaha over the competing memos from the Republican and the Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee regarding the FBI’s role in obtaining permission to surveil an American citizen.
When we last left the story, President Trump had just refused to allow the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the Republican memo because of the classified information that it contained, a factor that apparently wasn’t a problem for him in releasing the top secret info in the Republican memo drafted by his congressional lapdog Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).
In an unexpected move today, the Democrats on the committee, led by ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA), released a redacted version of the memo to the public after negotiating with the FBI over the cuts.
In a press release accompanying the newly released memo Rep. Schiff explained the necessity of the Democratic rebuttal to Nunes’ misleading attack on the FBI in the Republicans’ initial memo.
“After reviewing the memorandum drafted by committee Republicans that was made public at the beginning of this month, the FBI rightly expressed its ‘grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.’”
Rep. Schiff then goes on to summarize “some of the material facts the Majority deliberately omitted:”
“The FBI supplied information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Russia might be colluding with Trump campaign associates. DOJ provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference including evidence that Russia courted another Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, and that Russian agents previewed their dissemination of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Russian assistance would, as we would learn in the Papadopoulos plea, take the form of the anonymous disclosure of thousands of Hillary Clinton and DNC emails.”
“The FBI had ample reason to believe that Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power based on his history, including the fact that he had previously been a target of Russian recruitment, his travel to Russia, and other information. The renewals of the FISA were also appropriate and based on new information obtained by law enforcement.”
“The FBI did disclose that those who employed Christopher Steele were likely motivated to discredit Trump’s presidential campaign. The Bureau used proper masking procedures so as not to reveal the identities of U.S. persons not subject to the FISA, but made clear that the likely purpose was opposition research.”
“Contrary to the Majority’s assertions, the FBI and DOJ did not use a Yahoo News article to corroborate Steele; it was referenced alongside another article and a letter Page wrote to then FBI Director James Comey to inform the court of Page’s public denials.”
With the revelation of the facts that Nunes and the other Republican member of the Intelligence committee conveniently failed to include in their original disclosure about the classified investigation, Schiff and the Democratic members of the committee hope to “put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC. Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests.”
Rep. Schiff does not let the President and the GOP committee members off the hook for their attempt to mislead the public over the circumstances of the investigation in an effort to protect the Trump administration and suppress the Democratic response, stating:
“The document that we are releasing today is the product of a good faith negotiation between the Minority and the FBI and DOJ. But it is unfortunate that the weekend release of the Democratic memo by the White House was delayed beyond what was necessary and to the advantage of those seeking to mislead the American public. From the beginning, the HPSCI Minority expressed its support for any limited redactions to protect sources and methods, as well as sensitive ongoing investigative equities, and these redactions were agreed to at the expert level over a week ago.”
Schiff ends his statement on the release of the memo with a call for a renewal of the investigation’s primary purpose:
“Now that the public has a clearer understanding of the early phases of the investigation, it is time for our committee to return to the core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, the role U.S. persons played in that interference and what we need to do to protect the country going forward.”
Oddly, neither the press release nor any reporting on the disclosure of the rebuttal memo so far have mentioned what role, if any, the White House has had in approving this version of the document to the public. Further details of the behind the scenes maneuvering to finally have the memo see the light of day should emerge in the next few days, but in the meantime the public finally gets to see most of what the President and his Republican protectors have been so anxious to prevent them from seeing.
Naturally, Rep. Devin Nunes immediately attacked the Democratic members of the committee over their memo accusing them, according to The Washington Post, “of colluding with the government in a ‘cover up’ of information as he announced the memo had been posted online.”
With Nunes’ credibility in tatters after the information in his original memo was roundly judged to be much ado about nothing after its release, it’s doubtful that anyone but Trump’s true believers will take anything he says seriously. At least, however, the Democrats on the committee will now be back to a level playing field in the investigation as they fight with the GOP to get the probe back on track.