Despite widespread criticism from leaders in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Democratic Party, President Donald Trump approved the release of a memo authored by California representative Devin Nunes criticizing the FBI’s surveillance practices during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The memo, which was declassified and released Friday afternoon, was sent to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence majority members on January 18, citing intentional omissions by the FBI regarding their practices related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In October 2016, the FBI and Department of Justice received a FISA probable cause order authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page, a former volunteer advisor working for the Trump campaign. The memo outlines that to receive such an order, the FBI and DOJ need to supply the Surveillance Court with all relevant information at their disposal.
The memo by Nunes accuses the FBI of intentionally omitting four facts from the FISA application. First, the widely-discussed dossier compiled on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign served as an essential part of the FISA application, according to the memo. Despite the DNC and Clinton campaign’s role in compiling the dossier, neither of them were explicitly mentioned in the FISA application.
Second, the intelligence consultant who authored the dossier committed one of the most serious violations of the FBI: disclosing his relationship with the FBI to members of the media. According to the memo, Christopher Steele should have been terminated from the FBI for his previously undisclosed contacts with Yahoo News and other outlets in September 2016. He was not terminated until after the FISA application was submitted in October.
Third, during the presidential campaign, Steele admitted to then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” The memo cites this as a clear conflict of interest in regard to Steele’s role assembling the dossier.
Finally, the memo argues that former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe issued contradictory information in regard to the dossier. After Steele was terminated, the FBI claimed that Steele only minimally contributed to the report. Yet, in December 2017, McCabe testified before the committee that no surveillance warrant would have been sought without the information from the dossier. Comey also briefed the president on the contents of the dossier in January 2017, even though he later called the dossier “salacious and unverified” during his testimony in June.
While the memo paints a troubling picture of the Russian investigation, that hasn’t stopped members of the FBI or the Democratic Party from criticizing its release. The FBI argued in a statement that Nunes intentionally omitted key facts that impact the memo’s accuracy, while the Democrats also cried foul play at the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee for voting against the Democrat minority’s counter-response to the memo. Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have demanded that Nunes be removed from the committee in the midst of the controversy.