The GOP’s House Intelligence “Nunes Memo” – All Hat And No Cattle

illustration of a ten gallon cowboy hat with Fox News logo

by Richard Cameron


 

The memo released on Friday, at the approval, perhaps at the behest of the White House, by the GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee – dubbed the “Nunes Memo”, is nothing more than a clumsy political stunt.  A last gasp effort to influence public opinion and clear the way for derailing the investigation into Trump campaign coordination with Russia to interfere with last year’s presidential election.  Equally as troubling, is that Donald Trump and his party are, in the process, willfully compromising the reputation of the dedicated men and women of the nation’s law enforcement agency – the FBI

The memo, as a partisan weapon, lives or dies primarily on the basis of whether its central premise holds water. It doesn’t.

photo of pages of a copy of the GOPs House Intelligence Committee report on the FISA Court surveillance order, known as the "Nunes Memo"

The foundation of the memo rests on whether the FBI and the Justice Department misrepresented information, mainly the “Steele Dossier” in their application to the FISA  (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) court for a surveillance warrant. 

Nunes’ memo – the underlying outline of which, Nunes admits he has himself not reviewed, asserts that the Steele Dossier was used improperly to influence the judge reviewing the warrant request and that absence the inclusion of it, no warrant would have been approved.

In order to believe such a contention, one would have to dismiss a significant body of documentation on the principal subject of the order – Carter Page’s subsequent testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he admitted that he had meetings with top members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration and officials from Rosneft – a Russian state controlled petroleum behemoth in Moscow during July of 2016.

Page revealed during his testimony that he met with members of Russia’s presidential administration and the head of investor relations at the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft during his trip to Moscow in July 2016.

In Christopher Steele’s dossier, he notes that an “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. Ivanov, confided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, Diveykin (nfd) also had met secretly with Page on his recent visit.”

Page doesn’t deny meetings with Russian officials, but brushes off the significance of them, claiming that they were of an incidental nature. Whereas the Nunes memo contends that the FBI employed false pretenses to surveil Page, it conveniently fails to disclose that Page had already been a person of interest concerning his interactions with members of Putin’s cabinet. 

In a letter dated August 25, 2013. Page wrote to a colleague that the FBI intercepted, Page states, “Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda.”

What Page has not testified on, is the reason the FBI began monitoring his activities in 2013. The FISA judge was told by the FBI that Page had been approached by known counter-intelligence suspects in Russia to solicit information from him. One particularly eye opening aspect of the FBI investigation concerns one of Page’s contacts, Victor Podobnyy. The bureau obtained an audio recording of Podobnyy telling another agent that Page:

“wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. Plus he writes to me in Russian [to] practice the language. He flies to Moscow more often than I do. He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up. Maybe he can. I don’t know, but it’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.’’

Podobnyy, it so happens, was charged by the Justice Department as an unregistered agent of a foreign government (Russia). Steele’s dossier asserts that Carter Page, during his July 2016 visit to Moscow, negotiated terms of a Trump administration withdrawal of existing sanctions against Russia, in exhange for an opportunity to access holdings in Rosneft at favorable terms. Vox reports that in an email to other Trump campaign aides, Page told them that he had a “private conversation” with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, who he said “expressed strong support for Mr. Trump.”

Contrary to the contention of the Nunes memo, Carter Page had been on the radar screen of the FBI for years before the application to the FISA judge, as had Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The Nunes memo did exercise caution in including the note that “the Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.” The problem is that the FBI and the Justice Department having furnished the judge with documentation on Papadopoulos, undermines the GOP report’s entire storyline that the judge’s decision to grant the warrant rested solely on his understanding of the material in the Steele Dossier – a report they claim is tainted by Democrat partisan provenance.

That’s yet another problem. The Nunes memo conveniently and for purposes of promoting a fictional history of events, omits the basic fact that the Steele Dossier was not originally commissioned by Hillary Clinton’s campaign or the Democratic National Committee.  In reality, it was initiated by a major Republican donor, Paul Singer, who intended to use whatever findings Fusion GPS brought forth, to steer the nomination away from Donald Trump and presumably toward Marco Rubio or one of Trump’s 16 other competitors for the nomination.

Fusion GPS had been working for Mr. Singer for close to a year, and it was only in May 2016, when it became apparent that Trump’s road to the nomination could not be blocked by opposition research, that Singer pulled the plug and in essence, handed the baton to Clinton and the DNC in May. Singer’s representatives and the Washington Free Beacon, have denied having direct knowledge of Christopher Steele’s work for Fusion GPS, but this is viewed by Washington insiders as an effort to patch up relations with Donald Trump, that were originally jeopardized by reports of Singer’s involvement with the opposition research.

As to the claims in the Nunes memo that the Steele Dossier was what the judge’s decision to authorize a surveillance order, was solely based on, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), strongly disputed them:

“What we are going to learn if and when the Democratic memo is released, what we will learn is that it is not true that this FISA warrant was awarded solely on the basis of the Steele dossier. We will also learn that the FBI, because they’re very careful people, didn’t mislead the judge.”

photo of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes

Nunes himself is probably the last person the Republicans should want to be seen as the public face of the GOP memo.

An ethics investigation into Nunes’ public disclosures of material that may have included classified information, was dropped because the status of the material could not be conclusively determined.

However, Nunes’ impartiality with regards the Trump administration, is extremely compromised by activities such as his notorious late evening impromptu trip to the White House on March 21 of last year, where he claimed he delivered information to the president’s staff about intelligence collecting by the Justice Department on Trump operatives and his campaign.

The problem, is that it emerged, that Nunes himself was the one receiving the briefing, contrary to his statements. The other problem was that Nunes made claims about the details of the information, which, when confronted with facts, he had to backtrack on.  Nunes also visited the White House to confer directly with Donald Trump, which he admitted to Sean Hannity, was for political purposes. “I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him, because, as you know, he’s taking a lot of heat in the news media.”

Nunes and his memo, are tainted with partisan motives and calculations as are the stalling tactics being employed by the Republicans in holding back the release of the Democrat response to it.  The GOP majority in Congress, claim that the Democrat rebuttal to Nunes’ memo, must be carefully vetted to ensure preservation of sensitive information, yet no such process was applied to the Nunes memo, as evidenced by the FBI and Justice Department’s objections to its release on Friday, when the FBI said of the memo, “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

The Justice Department joined the FBI in releasing a statement objecting to the memo’s release that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo without first giving the FBI and the department the chance to review it.

It is also valuable to note that in a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) presented a motion to Chairman Nunes, which was subsequently denied, that both the Nunes memo and the Democrat equivalent, be submitted in full to the FBI for review before public release, so that the House members could be advised by the bureau on the merits and sensitivity of those reports.  You can read the minutes of that meeting here.

National Compass will provide ongoing coverage of this controversy as it continues to unfold.

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