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Weekend Review: GOP memo alleging FBI bias released
With President Trump's approval, the House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a three-and-a-half page memo authored by chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his staff, accusing the FBI of abusing its power in surveilling a former Trump campaign adviser as part of the ongoing Russia investigation. Here's what you need to know:
What the memo said: The document focuses on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant obtained by the FBI and the Justice Department targeting Carter Page, a former Trump campaign foreign policy aide. According to the memo, the application to surveil Page was approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in October 2016, after Page has already left the Trump campaign, and would later be renewed three more times. DOJ officials who approved these applications before they were sent to the FISC included former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The memo's main allegation is that the Trump-Russia dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele "formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application," but that none of the four DOJ's four surveillance applications for Page "disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steel's efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials." Steele was contracted by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to research the dossier, partly financed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
"While the FISA application relied on Steele's past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters, it ignored or concealed his anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations," the memo claims.
However, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal have reported that the FISA application did disclose that Steele was paid by a political party to conduct his research, although the FBI did not specify which party. These outlets have also cited sources claiming that the GOP memo distorts McCabe's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in claiming that he "testified...that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information."
The Wall Street Journal also reported last week that Page was on the radar of U.S. counterintelligence officials since at least 2013, before the Steele dossier; TIME reported on Sunday on an August 2013 letter in which Page brags about his ties to the Kremlin.
What the memo didn't say: The memo did not provide a full-fledged case against the credibility of the Justice Department's Russia investigation, now being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, as President Trump and other Republican lawmakers had reportedly hoped. "This memo totally vindicates 'Trump' in probe," the President tweeted on Saturday; other Republicans claimed that the memo's allegations showed that the entire Russia probe was the result of bias at the FBI and an outgrowth of the partisan Steele dossier.
Despite the President's claims, however, the memo does not claim that the dossier was the origin of the entire investigation; in fact, the document confirmsprevious reporting that information on former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopulous, not the information on Page from the dossier, "triggered the opening of [the] FBI counterintelligence investigation" into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
How politicians reacted: "The Committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes," Nunes said in a statement as the memo was made public.
While Republican lawmakers have largely echoed that message, many have also stopped short of agreeing with Trump that he is completely vindicated by the document. "I actually don't think it has any impact on the Russia probe," retiring House Oversight Committee chairman Trey Gowdy said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
Democratic lawmakers criticized Nunes and the memo; Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that the memo was a "political hit job on the FBI in service of the president." President Trump went after the California Democrat directly this morning on Twitter, labeling him "Little Adam Schiff" and calling him "one of the biggest liars andleakers in Washington."
How law enforcement officials responded: The memo was released over the public objections of the FBI and Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered his support and "great confidence in the men and woman" of the DOJ in a statement, while acknowledging that "no Department is perfect." In a note to bureau staff, FBI director Christopher Wray urged agents to "keep calm and tackle hard." He added: "Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure. We speak through our work. One case at a time. One decision at a time."
What happens now: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are expected to push for a vote to release their 10-page rebuttal memo at the panel's business meeting at 5pm today. According to news reports, the Democratic memo rebuts many of the allegations made by the GOP document, including the assertion that the FISA application targeting Page didn't mention Steele's political funding and the characterization of McCabe's testimony. Republicans voted against releasing the Democratic memo last week, but some GOP leaders (including House Speaker Paul Ryan) have since endorsed the rebuttal's release.
On the Republican side, more memos are coming as well. "This was phase one," Nunes told the Weekly Standard, revealing that memos investigating the State Department and other agencies are coming.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on Rod Rosenstein, with his job reportedly in danger after the memo's revelation that he signed one of the FISA applications targeting Carter Page. "You figure that one out," Trump responded when asked on Friday about his confidence in the Deputy Attorney General.
The big picture: The memo's release was the latest stage in President Trump's campaign against the FBI, now being joined by Republicans once seen as sympathetic to law enforcement.
- "This is the week that the GOP truly became the party of Trump" (Washington Post)
- "Once the party of law and order, Republicans are now challenging it" (Washington Post)
- "Trump's Unparalleled War on a Pillar of Society: Law Enforcement" (New York Times)
- "Why I Am Leaving the F.B.I." (New York Times op-ed by former FBI special agent Josh Campbell)
Government funding will expire on Thursday unless Congress passes another spending measure by then. The House is expected to vote in the coming days on a continuing resolution that would keep the government open through late March, although GOP defense hawks and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus have threatened to oppose another stopgap fix. That means the CR may need Democratic support, although many House Democrats are demanding protections for "Dreamers" before the government is funded.
Will that happen? According to Politico, lawmakers are considering a "temporary extension...of [Dreamers'] legal protections paired with a little bit of cash for borders security," which may be the only solution Congress can manage before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires on March 5.
According to the Washington Post, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Chirs Coons (D-DE) will introduce a bipartisan plan today to grant permanent legal status to "Dreamers" and boost border security. However, the bill does not address the White House's main immigration priorities -- limiting -called "chain migration," ending the diversity visa lottery program, and funding the President's proposed border wall -- and will likely face a difficult time surmounting that opposition on Capitol Hill.
Trump nominees withdrawn: K.T. McFarland, who served as Deputy National Security Advisor at the outset of the Trump Administration, withdrew her nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to Singapore on Friday (CNN); Kathleen Hartnett White, who sparked controversy with her comments on climate change, withdrew her nomination to lead the Council on Environmental Quality on Sunday (Washington Post).
2018 Central: Republicans are regaining confidence heading into the 2018 midterms as generic ballot polling reflects a shrinking Democratic advantage (FiveThirtyEight); Democratic energy is producing huge fundraising gains for the party, with more than 40 GOP incumbents seeing themselves outraised by Democratic challengers (Politico).
2020 Central: The Super Bowl on Sunday wasn't immune from presidential politics: viewers in Iowa saw campaign ads during the broadcast from Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who has already announced his 2020 presidential campaign (Politico). Also... Congrats Eagles fans!
The President's Schedule
At 11am, President Trump meets with Vice President Mike Pence.
At 11:45am, President and First Lady Trump depart the White House for Cincinnati, Ohio, where they will arrive at 1:35pm. The President will go on to travel to Blue Ash, Ohio, while First Lady Trump will participate in a briefing on opioids and a patient meet and greet at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
At 2:10pm, President Trump tours Sheffer Corporation, a manufacturing company in Blue Ash, Ohio. At 2:30pm, he delivers remarks on the effects of the Republican tax reform legislation at Sheffer Corporation. According to Ohio Public Radio, the Sheffer Corporation gave its employees $1,000 bonuses last month; the station also reported that Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and the state's GOP gubernatorial ticket will be in attendance.
The visit will be Trump's second to the Cincinnati area since taking office.
At 3pm, President Trump departs Blue Ash for Cincinnati to pick up the First Lady; at 3:30pm, both Trumps will depart Ohio for Washington, D.C., where they will arrive at 5pm.
Vice President's Schedule
Vice President Mike Pence departs today for Japan. Pence will visit the country for three days before heading to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he will lead the White House delegation attending the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Today in Congress
The Senate votes today on confirmation of California intellectual property attorney Andrei Iancu to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The House votes on nine pieces of legislation, including...
- a bill improving the Social Security representative payment program, which allows professional care providers to manage a Social Security recipient's benefits;
- a bill to designate the St. Louis Arch grounds as the "Gateway Arch National Park";
- a bill extending the President's authority to expedite military sales to Jordan;
- a bill encouraging U.S.-Ukraine cybersecurity cooperation to prevent Russian cyber attacks;
- and a bill providing for "rewards for the arrest or conviction of certain foreign nationals who have committed genocide or war crimes."