The Memo: It’s Politics, Not Intelligence
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The Memo: It’s Politics, Not Intelligence

‘A Wacky Linkage of Hints and Winks’

That’s it?

I finished reading this Republican House Intelligence Committee memo that was supposed to show extraordinary bias and partisanship for Democrats and against the Trump campaign and scratched my head.

Rather than “transparency” as the announced goal, it achieved a kind of wacky linkage of hints and winks toward, well, not too much.

This memo is simply a poorly done summary of classified reports that we can’t see or measure ourselves. It is neither persuasive nor well-documented; the memo raises more questions about the memo itself and the arguments surrounding its release than it does about the legitimacy of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Trump associate Carter Page. Nor does it say whether there should have been no surveillance of Page. Indeed, it is silent about the myriad other aspects of the Russia investigation, nor even directly argues that an investigation actually is not needed.

Aren’t intelligence agencies telling us that Russians are still trying to influence elections in the United States, Europe and elsewhere? Doesn’t it matter whether the President of the United States obstructed justice? And, are intelligence agencies now going to withhold information from Congress or allied intelligence systems from U.S. partners as a result of the release of this classified information?

For openers, the memo is not clear about what prompted surveillance of Page, which started before the so-called Steele dossier was available, or what was involved in renewals of the surveillance. It asserts without proof that the dossier was presented as THE reason for a warrant, when it is clear that the FISA review process is based on much more than what a single document could provide (an application is usually 60-70 pages long), and, of course, the canard that the dossier remains verboten material because it was underwritten by a law firm run by an associate of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

From published reports, the FBI and intelligence agencies were looking into Page and others before the summer of 2016, and the dossier was used in seeking a FISA warrant in October 2016.

Page had been a subject of interest to intelligence agencies since 2013. According to
The Washington Post, “Page first came to the FBI’s attention in 2013, when a Russian suspected to be linked to the country’s intelligence agencies identified him in a recorded conversation as someone who might be able to be leveraged for information. The Post’s original story about the Page warrant noted that this incident was part of the warrant application, which isn’t mentioned in the newly released memo. There may also have been other components of the warrant that haven’t yet been made public.”

Actually, the four pages are filled with rough attempts to label individuals as Democrat-leaning, offering that as “proof” that there was something wrong at the FBI and Justice Department. The memo reads like a bad Cliff’s Notes of the events, with obvious omissions. There is a section linking Steele with the Department of Justice via Bruce Ohr, then-associate deputy attorney general, whose wife worked for the company that hired Steele.

I understand that I am supposed to read this memo as a political tool, not as an investigative one. That’s the only way these pages lead to any possible action against the deputy attorney general, Rod D. Rosenstein, or FBI head Christopher Wray or four different FISA judges who are reported to have separately reviewed the warrant applications.

It’s a lot easier to understand what all the fuss was all about if you look at it only as a means to go after Rosenstein as supervisor of the Special Counsel’s investigation of potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and any obstruction of justice in trying to stop or limit the campaign.

I guess it is expected, if not reasonable, that Devin Nunes, (R-Calif.), head of the House Intelligence Committee, holds these opinions as “fact,” but it does not explain support for Nunes and the memo from wide numbers of congressional Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan. After all, Nunes is close to Trump, and previously faced House ethics charges for using White House classified feeds to present information back to the White House; it is not clear that White House staff contributed to the writing of this memo.

While reactions from all parts of Washington mostly followed expected paths, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement that said the Justice Department would take the criticisms of missteps seriously. Is that clear? What are they going to look into? Is there a suggestion here of a broken law?

While Fox News’ Sean Hannity saw the memo of “proof” of bias of officialdom against Trump, Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R-S.C.) tweeted that while there are questions about possible missteps at the FBI, it should have no effect in derailing Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation.

For that matter, it is difficult at first glance to see what the FBI and Justice Department found objectionable in unearthing “methods and sources” of information. All that the memo seems to say directly is to say that Rosenstein, former FBI head James B. Comey, just-resigned Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and others signing the applications for surveillance memos omitted any mention that the Steele dossier was paid for in part by Democratic opposition research. “Neither the initial application in October, 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior and FBI officials.”

All of which brings us back to why there was so much fuss about the memo itself. If the point was to unearth missteps at Justice, why not go to Justice and tell them to clean up their act? No, the real point here is to muddy the waters around Mueller’s investigation, to put Rosenstein in the cross-hairs as a means to get to Mueller.

This is a strictly political memo – not an intelligence report, not an investigative report, not an historically accurate summary. Why are we playing hide-and-seek with the memo?

February 3, 2018