WaPo Columnist: Americans Must Demand Answers From the FBI About Explosive Grassley-Graham FISA Memo

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Posted: Feb 15, 2018 1:05 PM
WaPo Columnist: Americans Must Demand Answers From the FBI About Explosive Grassley-Graham FISA Memo

As the memo wars continue to rage inside the Beltway, much of the media continues to train its attention on the drama surrounding Adam Schiff's Democratic response to the GOP-prepared document from House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, approved for release by President Trump a few weeks ago.  Prior to its publication, Schiff loudly warned -- without any real basis, it turns out -- that the Republican file becoming public would endanger national security by potentially compromising "sources and methods" intelligence information.  It did not.  Now we know that the FBI has objected to numerous elements of Schiff's counter-memo, which the Bureau says would actually cause the sort of harm that Schiff falsely attributed to the Republicans' version.  It's been more than a week now, and the various players are still wrangling over the best course of action.  Trump says he's 'inclined' to release the Democratic document so long as it passes natsec muster.  Schiff says he'll accept some redactions, but won't revise the content itself.  And the FBI, an institution Democrats will have trouble attacking these days, is trying to figure out the appropriate balance to strike.  

I addressed these latest wrinkles on America's Newsroom, redirecting attention from 'Nunes vs. Schiff' to the Grassley/Graham criminal referral against anti-Trump dossier author Christopher Steele.  As I wrote last week, it's the Senate missive that contains important details that the Nunes papers lack -- details that raise more legitimate concerns about the Obama-era Justice Department's process of obtaining a FISA warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page (which, as an important reminder, did not kick off the wider Russia probe):


That Grassley/Graham document has also arrested the attention of Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, who correctly flags it as containing the most compelling information of the entire memo-related firestorm:

Democrats can’t so easily dismiss the far more detailed declassified criminal referral written by two respected Republican senators — Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) — which confirms the claims raised in the Nunes memo. The Grassley-Graham memo has been all but ignored since its release, but it deserves attention from everyone — and answers from the Justice Department. If you’re concerned about Russia meddling in our election, as every American should be, then you should be deeply concerned about unverified allegations by Russian government officials, passed on to the FBI by a paid partisan of one candidate, leading to a warrant to spy on an American citizen associated with the other campaign. 

According to Grassley and Graham, that is precisely what happened. The FBI “relied heavily” on the Steele dossier to obtain warrants for surveillance of Carter Page, a marginal former Trump campaign adviser, the senators write. Moreover, they say, the FBI did not have “meaningful corroboration” of Steele’s claims when it submitted its application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. “The bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier. The application appears to have no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page” except for “a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.”  In other words, Steele’s work was virtually the sole source of information the FBI relied upon to obtain a warrant to spy on a U.S. citizen. Without it, there would likely have been no surveillance approved. The senators further confirm that the FBI did not, in fact, tell the court the full [highly partisan] provenance of the dossier...

By way of background, I delve into these details at some length here. Thiessen goes on to explain and contextualize why this all matters:

The senators note the FBI used the dossier because Steele was “considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.” But in October 2016, the FBI suspended its relationship with Steele after it learned he had disclosed dossier information to the press and after he lied to the FBI about it. Yet despite Steele’s deception, which calls into question his credibility, the FBI continued to rely on the dossier for renewals of the FISA warrant. Worse, the senators write, “the FBI did not subsequently disclose to the [court] this evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele had lied to the FBI.” None of these ugly details exonerate Trump or undercut the Mueller investigation. Nor was that the purpose...But if the FBI, wittingly or unwittingly, made representations before the court that were in error, then the American people have a right to know. And if a paid advocate of one presidential candidate persuaded the FBI to conduct surveillance on a member of the other candidate’s campaign team, Congress has an obligation to investigate.

As a Trump skeptic and a Mueller supporter, I believe that any legitimate Russia-related investigation must also scrutinize the role Fusion GPS -- the Democratic oppo research firm that hired Steele on behalf of Hillary and the DNC, and whose fingerprints are all over the infamous Trump Tower 'attempted collusion' meeting -- played in this entire saga.  I'll leave you with Ed Morrissey's take on why Adam Schiff looks so cynical and silly as this situation continues to unfold, and how it's his own fault: