Devin Nunes’s much-hyped FISA memo came out a few hours ago. It’s supposed not only to bring down the Mueller investigation, but basically the entire FBI.
In reality, though, it’s about a dozen attempts at political suicide. If anything, it gives the Russia investigation even more credibility.
For a breakdown of what’s actually in it, and if you want to have a reference as you read this, we just published a comprehensive article.
Anyway, let’s watch our hero Wile E. Coyote as he follows the roadrunner into his fake tunnel.
It’s so bad we gotta back up to before the memo even came out.
1. The FISA warrant on Carter Page must have yielded some pretty big stuff
The memo concerns solely the alleged improprieties committed by the FBI in its obtaining a FISA warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. So before we even get to the memo itself, the fact the thing was considered worth writing in the first place indicates the surveillance on Page reeled in some critical evidence. Otherwise, it’d be a non-issue.
2. They released the memo but haven’t challenged the warrant
If the FBI truly screwed up and obtained the warrant under false pretenses, Nunes would challenge the warrant in court. The memo is an admission they don’t have an actual legal case. The DOJ, in fact, warned Nunes in a letter sent personally to him not to release it, because in short, it was a bunch of bull. The DOJ, obviously, is headed by Jeff Sessions and its own Inspector General office would, obviously, be the entity to prosecute the FISA abuse.
3. Nunes didn’t even read the information he cites as evidence
Seriously. He didn’t. Because he couldn’t. The DOJ reminded him of this in that letter cited above. This is probably going to result in the biggest legal backfire since the defense had O.J. try on the glove.
On to the actual memo.
4. Things sure don’t look good for Carter Page
Full disclosure: I truly love Carter Page and wish he’d get a nightly talk show.
Alas, the memo helpfully reminds us that Page left the campaign under some sketchy circumstances, some of which are related, with predictable irony, directly to the evidence the memo itself simultaneously tries to discredit. For a visual, it’s basically Devin Nunes surrounded by a bunch of mirrors, madly firing a pistol at his reflection.
The memo asserts the FBI’s FISA warrant on Page was obtained in part based on a Yahoo News article that came out September 23, 2016. That article details Page’s contacts that summer with the Russian government. This article was reportedly based, so the memo says, on information leaked to Yahoo by dossier author Christopher Steele.
The memo also reminds us, though, that Page left the campaign three days after the Yahoo article came out. Upon his departure, a Trump campaign spokesman disavowed the campaign had any connection to Page: “Mr. Page is not an advisor and has made no contribution to the campaign … He’s never been part of our campaign.” This, again, is clearly false.
For good measure, Trump also said in March 2016 he’d brought Page on board.
5. The memo elevates Page’s role in the campaign
We don’t know for sure just what Page did for the Trump campaign or what his role was in any coordination with the Russian government. But we know he was on it.
Trump minimized Page’s role: “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him. I don’t think I ever met him. And he actually said that he was a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time. I don’t think I ever met him. Now, it’s possible that I walked into a room and he was sitting there, but I don’t think I ever met him.”
But this memo reminds us, again and again and again, that the FBI sure thought Page was important.
6. The memo says no, the FBI actually didn’t spy on the Trump campaign
Remember when the memo said Page left the campaign in September? The FISA was sought on October 26. So if the nefarious premise is that the Obama administration was secretly spying on the Trump campaign, they weren’t. The memo itself says that.
7. The memo challenges the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
The judge that approved this FISA, and all judges that approve all FISAs, are members of a special court. The President doesn’t appoint them. The Supreme Court Justice, in this case Bush appointee John Roberts, appointed the FISA judges that Trump and Nunes claim speciously granted the FBI the right to spy on Americans. So Nunes ultimately points his finger not at Obama, but at the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who has ultimate oversight here and who, in the last year, hasn’t uttered a single word of concern about any of this.
So is the U.S. Chief Justice in on this? If not, now that the memo is out we should expect swift, scathing condemnation from on high. If we don’t hear it, godspeed Mr. Nunes.
8. The memo reminds us, again, that the Russia investigation wasn’t based on the dossier
It literally that the investigation was opened based on information the FBI received from Australian intelligence about another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, and his efforts to conspire with Russia on behalf of the campaign. The Steele dossier didn’t factor into this.
9. The memo reminds us of the scale of the campaign’s efforts to work with Russia
It says, and I quote, “there is no evidence of cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos.” I guess Nunes thinks the FBI misrepresented the Papadopoulos intel to connect him to Page.
Two things: If true, this would imply the FBI likely would also have had a wire on Papa Dop. We know this warrant would have been, well, warranted, given that Nunes admitted in the memo the FBI opened its investigation because of Papa. Whoops a daisy.
But also, this means the FBI, and the FISA court, had reason to suspect that multiple members of the Trump campaign might be acting on behalf of, or trying to conspire with, an adversary of the United States.
10. The FBI had a warrant on Page for THREE HUNDRED SIXTY DAYS
Nunes reminds us, helpfully, that FISA warrants have to be renewed every 90 days, and that in addition to the first warrant, Page’s received not one, not two, but three renewals. Do the math, and that’s almost a year.
11. Most importantly: The leaders of the FBI, senior officials at DOJ, including one appointed by Trump, and multiple judges appointed by a Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justice, found in FOUR separate incidents over the course of nearly a year, new evidence that gave them probable cause to believe Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.
12. The FBI might now be forced to publicize some of its evidence that the Trump campaign was indeed conspiring with Russia
Of all the stupid things, this is the stupidest. In challenging the validity FBI’s evidence, Nunes is also daring them to publicize that evidence. This might result in Nunes unintentionally causing the public release of the first hard evidence we’ve seen of direct coordination between the Trump camp and the Russian government. What a dolt.
And indeed, FBI Director Christopher Wray has indicated he’ll release a response to the memo. I can’t wait.