In this last week our nation has been saturated with news of a “secret memo” that really isn’t secret. It was written by Republican House member Devin Nunes of California; he’s the chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His committee has been investigating possible Russian collusion in the 2016 Presidential election. Please note this is completely separate from the criminal investigation by Robert Mueller.
On April 6, 2017 Mr. Nunes recused himself from the Russian probe for ethics violations. It appears that hasn’t done much for his ethics.
Last month he released a memo that you can read it here. The memo alleges that the Department of Justice and the FBI sought permission to gain information on Mr. Trump’s campaign advisor Carter Page. The memo also claims that this permission depended on information from Christopher Steele.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to investigate if Russia was attempting to influence the Presidential election. Fusion GPS does opposition research, or “oppo research.” If you’re a candidate for elected office you would hire a firm like Fusion GPS to find opposition research on your opponent. There’s an excellent book titled We’re With Nobody that describes this.
In September of 2015 Fusion GPS was hired by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative web page who raised concerns about Donald Trump winning the Republican primary. In April of 2016 the Free Beacon stopped the investigation, but the campaign of Hillary Clinton showed an interest and they hired Fusion GPS. Working for Fusion GPS, Mr. Steele began to look at Russia. Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign so alarmed Mr. Steele that he feared Mr. Trump was being blackmailed by Russia.
Still with me? Good. The Nunes memo claims the application to surveil Mr. Page relied almost entirely on Mr. Steele’s “dossier.” They claim that since Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS were clients of Mrs. Clinton, anything Mr. Steele wrote brought with it a bias against Mr. Trump.
So here’s their narrative: When the Department of Justice and the FBI sought information on Carter Page they relied on evidence against Mr. Trump that was biased and therefore suspect. This proves that any investigation of Mr. Trump or his campaign depends on government employees who don’t want to work for Mr. Trump (he calls them the Deep State) and this proves there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. Mr. Trump claims this the Nunes memo vindicates him.
Except it doesn’t. Here’s my list of what’s wrong with the Trump narrative:
- Mr Steele’s dossier does not prove an anti-Trump bias. If you’re a candidate who hires oppo research you need accurate information. If you give the candidate incorrect information you’ll never work again.
- The application to surveil Mr. Page is classified and we’ll likely never have access to it. But we do know from several sources that the application would never have been approved only on the Steele dossier. We also know that the warrant is only good for 90 days and it must be renewed. You can read about this here but this warrant is difficult to get, and can only be renewed if it’s shown that the surveillance is providing information. It can’t be renewed only for the reason to continue fishing.
- The Mueller investigation is a criminal investigation. The Nunes memo criticizes the FBI in Congress’ oversight powers over the Executive Branch of government. While Mr. Nunes and Mr. Trump hope that this memo will compromise Mr. Mueller’s investigation but it won’t. They depend the American people thinking that this is one investigation and is suspect. It isn’t
I believe that the American people are smarter than President Trump needs them to be.