Nunes memo

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Nunes memo
The US Justice Department warned that the public release of a classified memo alleging abuses in FBI surveillance tactics would be "extraordinarily reckless"[1]

The Nunes memo is a four-page memorandum written by Republican staff members of U.S. Representative Devin Nunes and released in February 2018. Formally titled Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,[2] it alleges that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "may have relied on politically motivated or questionable sources" to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant in the early phases of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[3] Nunes is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) and a supporter of FISA surveillance extension.[4][5][6] In April 2017 Nunes stepped aside from chairing the HPSCI Russia investigation while the House Ethics Committee conducted an inquiry into possible ethics violation involving his secret coordination with the White House; he then began his own secret parallel investigation. The Ethics Committee investigation ended in December 2017, and Nunes later claimed he had never recused.

Republican legislators favoring public release of the memo argued that the memo contains evidence that the FISA warrant process was misused by FBI employees to sabotage the Trump presidency.[7] They alleged there was excessive dependence on allegations in the Trump-Russia dossier in obtaining a warrant from the FISA court.[8] Political allies of Donald Trump attempted to use the memo to pivot attention away from the Special Counsel investigation of the Trump presidential campaign's role in Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[7] Prior to release of the memo, sources reported that Trump told his associates that release of the memo would discredit the investigation.[9][10][11]

Anticipation of the release of the memo sparked controversy, mainly along political lines. In a rare break from the administration, the FBI expressed "grave concerns" about the accuracy of the memo.[12][13] House Republicans released the memo on February 2, 2018.

A social media campaign, under the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, emerged in mid-January 2018 to publicly release the memo despite some of its classified contents. Russian-linked bots on Twitter helped spread the controversial hashtag.[14][15][16] Twitter stated that its initial analysis had not found "significant activity" by Russia-connected accounts posting original material, but that they would continue to analyze the data. On January 31, Twitter contacted 1.4 million of its users to inform them that they had "followed accounts linked to the Russian disinformation campaign or had shared related content with their followers by retweeting, quoting or replying to their messages". [17][18]

Background

Adam Schiff alleging Nunes of making material changes to memo after committee vote

The memo was produced by a small group of House Republicans and staff, led by Devin Nunes, as part of an investigation into how the FBI used the Trump–Russia dossier.[19] Democratic committee members were not informed about the investigation into the FBI or the preparation of the memo, a possible violation of committee rules.[20] Adam Schiff, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Nunes had not read all of the relevant source material, although Nunes had argued for months that the FBI and DOJ had taken part in a conspiracy.[21]

Nunes had previously recused himself from the committee's investigation into Russia's interference in U.S. elections[21] due to a House ethics investigation into Nunes' coordination with the Trump administration. The House Ethics Committee stated that "Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct" (the ethics investigation ended when the committee was unable to obtain the relevant classified information).[22][23] However, after offering to step aside from the investigation into Russian interference, Nunes began his own "parallel" investigation, whose purpose appeared to be to undermine the original ongoing investigation.[24]

Extension of the mass surveillance programs under the same FISA methods allegedly found problematic by the memo was signed into law on January 19, 2018.[5][25] The same day, a growing number of Republicans began calling for the release of the memo.[26][27] In response to news surrounding the memo, Fox News host Sean Hannity directed a message at former FBI Director Robert Mueller, saying, "Your witch hunt is now over. Time to close the doors."[27] Donald Trump, Jr. was also a major proponent of its release.

Social media influence

A social media campaign emerged on January 19, 2018[28] to publicly release the memo despite some of its classified contents. Russian-linked bots on Twitter helped spread the controversial hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo.[14][15][16]

According to the Hamilton 68 project run by the bipartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy which tracks Russian propaganda efforts on Twitter, #ReleaseTheMemo was promoted by Russian twitter bot accounts, with a 230,000 percent spike in the promotion of the hashtag by these accounts.[29][15][14][16] However, Twitter stated that a "preliminary analysis of available geographical data for tweets with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo ... has not identified any significant activity connected to Russia with respect to tweets posting original content to this hashtag."[17] According to an analysis by CNN the hashtag was pushed by over a thousand newly created accounts, of which 460 were without a profile picture. CNN also noted that the hashtag was promoted by prominent American conservatives and Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr. and Mark Meadows.[30]

January 29, 2018 – HPSCI Meeting Transcript

Purpose

Carter Page had been the subject of FISA warrants by the FBI going back to 2014 when he was alleged to have been colluding with the Russian government or knowingly working as an agent on its behalf.[31] In 2013, Page originally came to the attention of the FBI counterintelligence unit prior to his becoming a Trump campaign adviser, when the unit learned that Russian spies were trying to use Page as a source of information and tried to recruit him as an agent; this resulted in Page being interviewed by the FBI in June 2013.[32][33][34] Page claimed that the information he provided to the Russians was innocuous.[33]

Investigators wiretapped Page in October 2016, a month after the Trump campaign distanced themselves from Page.[35] The FISA warrants on Page have since been renewed thrice, each time requiring new evidence "pertinent to intelligence-related collection" to back up the original application.[36][37][38]

Republicans posited that politically-motivated FBI employees attempted to undermine the Trump presidency, citing the Trump–Russia dossier which was reportedly used as evidence for obtaining a FISA warrant to wiretap Page.[7] According to this argument, the FBI did not disclose to the FISA court that their request for a warrant was dependent on evidence in the Trump-Russia dossier, a document funded in part by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).[8] Fusion GPS, the firm behind the document, started its research into Trump with funding from the conservative news outlet, The Washington Free Beacon, and later, the FBI.[38]

Attempting to portray the Special Counsel investigation as the real scandal, allies of Trump attempted to move focus away from the Trump presidential campaign's alleged role in the Russian election interference.[7] In the hours before the expected release of the memo, sources reported that Trump told his associates that release of the memo would discredit the investigation.[9]

Contents

The memo states that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved a FISA application to extend the surveillance of Carter Page into the spring of 2017. The memo accuses the FBI and the Justice Department of failing to provide enough information about Christopher Steele, author of the Trump-Russia dossier, to a FISA court judge.[36][39] The memo "suggests that the FBI may have relied on politically motivated or questionable sources to justify its request for a secret surveillance warrant" in the early phases of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[3] The memo implies that the evidence for the FISA warrant was primarily built on the Steele dossier; in contrast, the FBI says that evidence for the warrant was obtained from a variety of sources.[40]

In the memo, E. W. Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division, suggests the Trump–Russia dossier had not been completely investigated prior to their application for a FISA warrant to surveil U.S. citizen Carter Page.[41][42]

The memo also reveals that the spark for the FBI investigation into potential collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russians was not the Steele dossier, but rather the comments made by Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, who told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that the Russians possessed "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked emails.[37]

Adam Schiff and Democrats on the committee said Nunes' memo is inaccurate, and omits key information on evidence other than Steele's dossier, used in the application for the FISA warrant.[43]

Responses

As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.

The FBI's statement on the Nunes memo, CNBC[44]

Shortly after becoming a trending topic, the memo drew polarizing reactions from government officials and the media, generally along party lines.[45][46] The Justice Department (DOJ) released a letter to Congress calling a release of the memo without review "reckless" because it could expose intelligence sources and methods, while President Donald Trump called for its public release.[47] FBI Director Christopher Wray was allowed to read the memo and did so on January 28. On January 29, the majority of the House Intelligence Committee disregarded the DOJ's warnings and voted to approve the memo's release.[48] In response, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee drafted a ten-page rebuttal memo on January 24. Both memos were released to the full House.[49] The Republicans voted against making public the competing memo Democrats had crafted, and rejected a proposal to give the Justice Department and FBI more time to vet the document. The President then had up to five days to review it before it could be officialy released.[50]

Democrats have repudiated the memo. Adam Schiff, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a statement saying it was "[r]ife with factual inaccuracies" and was "meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI."[51] Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee drafted a ten-page rebuttal memo on January 24.[52][53] However, when the committee voted along partisan lines to release the Nunes memo, it also voted not to release the Democratic memo.[48]

Republicans sought a committee vote that would request the release through the President, which would keep the memo confined to committee members until the President responded.[54] The memo could be made public by a vote in the House of Representatives if the President did not act or denied the request, but no vote was scheduled for the full House. Glenn Greenwald called the campaign "a bizarre spectacle" since the Republicans were "holding a document that only they can release, while pretending to be advocating for its release."[55] Nunes and the House Intelligence Committee denied access to the memo by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI, who stated a desire to investigate any alleged wrongdoing.[54] The Department of Justice sent a letter to Nunes and called the release of the memo extremely "reckless."[1] Nunes' panel refused to allow the FBI and the Justice Department to view the memo despite their requests.[56]

Adam Schiff released a statement and a letter to Devin Nunes at 19:00 on January 31, 2018, stating: "BREAKING: Discovered late tonight that Chairman Nunes made material changes to the memo he sent to White House – changes not approved by the Committee. White House therefore reviewing a document the Committee has not approved for release."[57][58] In response Peter King, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, stated, "My understanding is this was agreed on beforehand among Republicans. There's one small part in the memo which in no way affects the substance in the memo." He said it involved removing only "three or four words" and came at the request of the FBI.[59]

Revelations about the Nunes memo and its surrounding controversy gave rise to comparisons to the Saturday night massacre, alluding to the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox by President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.[60][61][62][63]

Responses following release of the memo

On February 2, 2018, the disputed memo was published on the HPSCI website. In authorizing the release of the memo, the White House, in a statement from the counsel to the President, stressed that "the memorandum reflects the judgments of its congressional authors" and that the reason for its release was "significant public interest in the memorandum."[64]

Later that day John McCain rebuked his fellow Republicans with the statement, "The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests―no party's, no president's, only Putin's. ... If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him."[65]

House Judiciary Committee member Jerry Nadler of New York issued a six-page analysis rebutting the memo's legal basis and accusing Republican House members of being part of "an organized effort to obstruct” Mueller's investigation. Because of his committee membership, Nadler read the classified material used to obtain the FISA warrant, which he said demonstrates probable cause that Carter Page acted as an agent of a foreign power.[66] [67]

President Trump tweeted that the memo "totally vindicates 'Trump'" regarding the special counsel investigation.[68]

Calls for Nunes' removal from the committee

Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer called for House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove Devin Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee, accusing him of abusing his position as committee chairman and of working in coordination with the White House that the committee is supposed to be investigating.[69] House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi referred to the document as a "bogus" memo which was part of a Republican cover-up campaign; she also said Nunes had disgraced the House committee. Senate Minority Whip Chuck Schumer said that the memo aimed to spread "conspiracy theories" and attacked federal law enforcement in order to protect President Trump from investigation.[69] Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer also called for Nunes to be removed, saying Nunes' behavior had undermined the American people's trust in his chairmanship of the committee.[70]

See also

References

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External links

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