The so-called “Democratic memo” — addressing the FBI’s investigation of a Trump campaign official — has failed to exonerate the FBI, or to reassure Americans about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.
The two partisan sides in this matter have merely doubled down, while huge questions about our civil liberties remain unanswered, even unacklowledged.
The Democratic memo failed to refute the key claim made by Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence, in their own memo — that, in seeking a FISA warrant, primary weight was given by the FBI to what former FBI Director James Comey called a “salacious and unverified” political research dossier. This was the Steele dossier, a collection of hearsay and rumor aimed at then-candidate Donald Trump.
This sleazy document was used to justify the FBI’s successful request for a wiretapping warrant on Carter Page, who was a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign starting in March, 2016, and ending in September, 2016. He was wiretapped in October, 2016 — after he left the campaign.
The Democratic memo seeks to make two main points: that the FISA court was, in fact, informed that the Steele dossier was opposition research and that Carter Page was already a target of FBI interest in its Russian spying investigation. Neither point was made with definitive persuasion.
According to the Democratic memo, the FBI acknowledged Christopher Steele’s partisan bias by stating that whoever paid for his research was “likely looking for information that could be used to discredit” Mr. Trump.
That’s putting the matter very, very mildly. In fact, Mr. Steele was known to be passionately partisian. And the document was self-evidently, to all who read it, “salacious and unverified.” Yet it was the primary basis for the warrant, which means that the FBI and the FISA judge were both wrong.
Democrats also claim that Republicans cherrypicked and selectively released facts for the previously released “Nunes memo.” That may be so. But the FBI’s FISA warrant application cherrypicked facts and this is a far more serious matter. For the FISA warrant application was not just part of a partisan report or debate, but the basis for secret wiretapping — the intrusion of the state into a citizen’s privacy.
Another supposed contention in the Democratic memo is that Mr. Page was not a new target for the Justice Department. Mr. Page had been a “person of interest” to the FBI for his Russia connections since at least 2013 and had been interviewed by the FBI more than once.
But that too fails to vindicate the FBI. Indeed, it could lead to the inference that the FBI and the Justice Department used its existing interest in Mr. Page as a vehicle to justify snooping on the Trump campaign.
At this point, the House Committee on Intelligence is so fractured that a bipartisan investigation of the FBI’s and Justice Department’s use of the FISA process is now all but impossible.
And that is what truly matters here. For both the Nunes memo and the Democratic memo show how the FISA process can be abused and that the top echelon of the FBI was highly politicized. As a result, the power of the federal government was greviously misued and the FBI’s reputation has been degraded.
We must not lose sight of the real story or the real scandal. More important than which parstisans are more right or more wrong about Mr. Page, Mr. Steele, and the Russians is the question of integrity and functionality in the administration of justice by the federal government. FISA is broken and so is the management of the FBI. Both are out of order. Who will fix them and how?
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