After House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., sent his memo laying out potential abuses of the FISA process by the FBI to the White House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., demanded that he be removed as chairman. Nunes was “deliberately dishonest” in pushing to release a “bogus memo,” Pelosi declared, and had “disgraced the House Intelligence Committee” with his “partisan effort to distort intelligence.”
But Democrats can’t so easily dismiss the far more detailed declassified criminal referral written by two respected Republican senators – Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C. – which confirms the claims raised in the Nunes memo. The Grassley-Graham memo has been all but ignored since its release, but it deserves attention from everyone – and answers from the Justice Department.
If you’re concerned about Russia meddling in our election, as every American should be, then you should be deeply concerned about unverified allegations by Russian government officials, passed on to the FBI by a paid partisan of one candidate, leading to a warrant to spy on an American citizen associated with the other campaign.
According to Grassley and Graham, that is precisely what happened. The FBI “relied heavily” on the Steele dossier to obtain warrants for surveillance of Carter Page, a marginal former Trump campaign adviser, the senators write. Moreover, they say, the FBI did not have “meaningful corroboration” of Steele’s claims when it submitted its application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. “The bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier. The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page” except for “a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.”
In other words, Steele’s work was virtually the sole source of information the FBI relied upon to obtain a warrant to spy on a U.S. citizen. Without it, there would likely have been no surveillance approved.
The senators further confirm that the FBI did not, in fact, tell the court the full provenance of the dossier, writing, “The application failed to disclose that the identities of Mr. Simpson’s ultimate clients were the Clinton campaign and the DNC.” (Glenn Simpson is co-founder of the firm that hired Steele.) They also failed to tell the court that an FBI official, Bruce Ohr (whose wife worked for Fusion GPS on the Russia project), had warned the bureau that “Steele was ‘desperate’ to see that Mr. Trump was not elected” even though this information was relevant “to his credibility and his stated political motive.” Grassley and Graham conclude that “it appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associate of the opposing presidential candidate.”
The senators note the FBI used the dossier because Steele was “considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.” But in October 2016, the FBI suspended its relationship with Steele after it learned he had disclosed dossier information to the press and after he lied to the FBI about it. Yet despite Steele’s deception, which calls into question his credibility, the FBI continued to rely on the dossier for renewals of the FISA warrant. Worse, the senators write, “the FBI did not subsequently disclose to the [court] this evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele had lied to the FBI.”
None of these ugly details exonerates Trump or undercut the Mueller investigation. Nor was that the purpose. Both Graham and Grassley have always supported special counsel Robert S. Mueller III – Graham by introducing a bill that would require the attorney general to petition a panel of federal judges for permission to remove a special counsel, and Grassley by holding a hearing on the bill.
But if the FBI, wittingly or unwittingly, made representations before the court that were in error, then the American people have a right to know. And if a paid advocate of one presidential candidate persuaded the FBI to conduct surveillance on a member of the other candidate’s campaign team, Congress has an obligation to investigate.
As for Democrats, are Grassley and Graham’s claims “bogus” and “dishonest”? Have they “disgraced” their committee with a “partisan effort to distort intelligence”? I think not. They have raised serious questions that should trouble all Americans, no matter their political party.
Marc A. Thiessen is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter, @marcthiessen.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.