The memo is shocking, but just a small part of the whole mess

The release of the intelligence committee memo may lead to a reckoning for FBI surveillance practices, and the influence of investigations on elections, but if it is to do any real good it should lead to a reckoning of the whole political intelligence mess in the United States, a country that seems to be in a worsening state of disunity. The Russians must be laughing in disbelief.

Wall Street Journal:  A Reckoning for the FBI

The House memo reveals disturbing facts about the misuse of FISA.

The four-page memo released Friday reports disturbing facts about how the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath.

I think that at this stage, that is highly debatable without more facts – any FBI or Intelligence actions involving campaign conduct could affect an election, but “used to influence” is a contentious claim.

James Comey certainly influenced the election by releasing a letter – see The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton The Election – but it’s debatable whether he released the letter to deliberately influence the election, or because he felt he had a duty to the voters to reveal information he thought they should know.

However WSJ does point out some real problems revealed by the memo.

The White House declassified the memo Friday, and you don’t have to be a civil libertarian to be shocked by the details. The memo confirms that the FBI and Justice Department on Oct. 21, 2016 obtained a FISA order to surveil Carter Page, an American citizen who was a relatively minor volunteer adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.

The memo says an “essential” part of the FISA application was the “dossier” assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele and the research firm Fusion GPS that was hired by a law firm attached to the Clinton campaign. The memo adds that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December 2017 that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought” without the dossier.

This is troubling enough, but the memo also discloses that the FBI failed to inform the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had funded the dossier. The memo says the FBI supported its FISA application by “extensively” citing a September 2016 article in Yahoo News that contained allegations against Mr. Page. But the FBI failed to tell the court that Mr. Steele and Fusion were the main sources for that Yahoo article. In essence the FBI was citing Mr. Steele to corroborate Mr. Steele.

Unlike a normal court, FISA doesn’t have competing pleaders. The FBI and Justice appear ex parte as applicants, and thus the judges depend on candor from both. Yet the FBI never informed the court that Mr. Steele was in effect working for the Clinton campaign.

So the memo does raise serious questions. But after claiming “facts about how the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election” in it’s opening paragraph it later says:

We don’t know the political motives of the FBI and Justice officials, but the facts are damaging enough.

What the memo says about what the FBI did looks shoddy for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean what they did was shady.

As the saying goes, cock-up trumps conspiracy most of the time.

No matter its motives, the FBI became a tool of anti-Trump political actors. This is unacceptable in a democracy and ought to alarm anyone who wants the FBI to be a nonpartisan enforcer of the law.

The FBI was caught between political actors from both sides, plus political interference from a foreign power.

It should be remembered that investigation that led to the Steele dossier was originally funded by a conservative group who opposed Trump, until Democrats took it over.

Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes is doing a service by forcing these facts into the public domain where the American people can examine them, hold people accountable, and then Congress can determine how to prevent them in the future.

Sort of a service – it is a very selective revelation by Nunes. He will have done a real service if this release leads to further releases that give a much more comprehensive picture.

Democrats are howling that the memo, produced by Republican staff, is misleading and leaves out essential details. They are producing their own summary of the evidence, and by all means let’s see that too. President Trump should declassify it promptly, along with Senator Chuck Grassley’s referral for criminal investigation of Mr. Steele.

If all of this is damaging to the reputation of the FBI and Justice Department, then that damage is self-inflicted. We recognize the need for the FBI to sometimes spy on Americans to keep the country safe, but this is a power that should never be abused.

Its apparent misuse during the presidential campaign needs to be fully investigated.

I agree.

Toward that end, the public should see more of the documents that are behind the competing intelligence memos to judge who is telling the truth. Mr. Trump and the White House should consider the remedy of radical transparency.

Is that likely? I doubt it.

The other political misdirection is that the memo is designed to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Trump collusion with Russia. We doubt Mr. Mueller will be deterred by any of this. The question of FISA abuse is independent of Mr. Mueller’s work, and one that Congress takes up amid a larger debate about surveillance and national security.

Mr. Trump would do well to knock off the tweets lambasting the Mueller probe, and let House and Senate Republicans focus public attention on these FISA abuses.

But Trump is unlikely to stop his tweeting. His attempts at political interference from the highest level in investigations by the FBI should be at least as concerning as FBI misconduct in it’s investigations.


  1. sorethumb

     /  February 4, 2018

    worsening state of disunity
    Dr Paul Spoonley, Massey University’s pro vice-chancellor of humanities and social sciences, told Newshub that Mr Trump is giving voice to people who feel uncomfortable about multiculturalism.
    Being a white supremacist in New Zealand is rather a lonely existence, so anybody who gives authority and support to any of their views is seen as a positive – and they feel that they have some kind of authority, then, to do something similar in New Zealand by acting out those views. In this case, by being explicitly racist.”
    Dr Spoonley said the effect of Mr Trump’s election can be seen right across the spectrum on issues of race and immigration – not just in extremist groups.
    “There is a whole group of people who feel over the last decade things that have been moving toward a much more multicultural situation in various parts of the world, and this is a big push-back.

    He means opponents are labelled white supremacist and denied a voice.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 4, 2018

      The article avoids telling us how they were evidently self-identified as Muslims and accuses their attacker of racism while failing to identify the race of either the attacker or the attacked and failing to question whether the objection was actuslly to Muslim religious and cultural practises rather than race.

      In short it was written and published compliant with a political agenda.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  February 4, 2018

        It’s stale news, it’s a year old. The attack was verbal and by a drunk woman-it was obvious that the abused were Muslim from their dress. The abuse was, I think, largely racial but it’s hard to separate the two things in a case like this. Some people think that being Muslim is a race, I think. Either way, it was an unedifying story .

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 4, 2018

    I thought the WSJ editorial was good and also this one for a cool, non-partisan assessment:

    • David

       /  February 4, 2018

      Thanks Alan. The whole thing drips with irony that the Clinton campaign used a foreign operative who with help from the Russians tried to influence the outcome of the American election.
      If I was the FISA court judge who was misled by Comey and McCabe I would be hauling them into the nearest court and holding them in contempt and then going after their co conspirators.

      • Andy C

         /  February 5, 2018

        I think it’s a stretch to assume the FISA court judges didn’t know who Steele was at that stage, he’d been all through the press from Jan 2017. So given that I’d say it’s very likely that they had other evidence as well, and may even have presented the dossier simply as a side channel supporting document.

  3. sorethumb

     /  February 4, 2018

    They still think Trump won because of the Russians: nothing to do with liberal society progressing into something which disappears down it’s own back side.

    • David

       /  February 4, 2018

      Its that disconnect where the media and their social circle live in their coastal bubbles and probably rarely ever interact with a Trump voter so when he won the only plausible reason is the Russians because nothing else makes sense to them.

  4. artcroft

     /  February 4, 2018

    I found this at The Resurgent, a conservative website. It asks some excellent questions about this memo
    Worth a read.

  5. A central pillar of Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo alleging wrongdoing by the FBI — that the government did not disclose the political bias of a source when seeking a surveillance warrant — is unfounded, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff told reporters Friday.

    Schiff disputed the memo’s assertion as “not accurate,” saying the court was aware that there was a “likely political motivation” behind the Steele dossier. The California Democrat also said it is normal in FISA applications not to name individuals who may be sources of information.
    The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported after the memo’s release that the FISA court was aware of political motivations behind the dossier.

    According to an official cited in the Post on Friday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity, the Justice Department presented “ample disclosure of relevant, material facts,” to the FISA court, including that “the research was being paid for by a political entity.”

    The New York Times also reported Friday that the FISA court was told about political motivations behind the dossier. A Democratic memo written to rebut the allegations in Nunes’ document said the FBI did, in fact, tell the court that the information in the Steele dossier was politically motivated, even if the bureau didn’t mention that research that went into the dossier was paid for by Democrats, the Times reported, citing two people familiar with the Democratic memo.

    The Wall Street Journal further reported that, according to a person familiar with the matter, the FISA application disclosed that Steele was paid by a law firm working for a major political party,

    Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, tweeted Saturday that the news reports served as “proof that the #mehmo deliberately misrepresented the record to make the #FISA application look shadier than it was” and called the revelations “(f)atal to the memo’s entire premise.”

    The release of a one-sided memo was always going to be contentious. It mat do more harm to the Republican aims than good.

    • David

       /  February 4, 2018

      The damage being done is to the Democrats and to the FBI and DOJ. However much may dislike the duly elected president a warrant was obtained to spy on a political campaign by people in law enforcement who were politically biased and the basis of the warrant came from a Clinton paid for document that was riddled with factual errors and the judge was told there could be some political motivation !
      With the political decision not to prosecute Hilary over the emails, exonerated before being interviewed, FBI investigator on the case McCabes wife being given 100s of thousands from Hilary,s PAC to run for office, the text messages between the other FBI investigators, the DOJ guy who,s wife worked on the dossier for Fusion GPS it all reads like a bloody spy novel.
      Remove the political personalities and any objective analysis of this the US looks like a Zimbabwe. The Democrats should be careful what actions they are defending and the 4th estate shouldnt be running interference but actually doing their job.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 4, 2018

      Chuckled at this. As I said yesterday, when did the Dems ever need official permission to release “Top Secret” documents and information?

      Best wait to see if the FBI confirms or ignores this. It isn’t consistent with reports the Nune document erred only by omission since this would be a direct contradiction of what Nune said.

    • Gezza

       /  February 4, 2018

      Here Joe. You need to open the image page with the .jpg url to have it display here.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 4, 2018

        J Edgar Hoover was independent. And a crook. The FBI is not independent. It serves the American people and must be monitored by the government like all government agencies.

      • David

         /  February 4, 2018

        The FBI is part of the executive branch. It is not, nor was it ever intended to be, independent.