Devin Nunes and the Nothing Burger Memo

Before we even got a look at the infamous memo, Rep. Devin Nunes demonstrated why no one should take him seriously.

House Republicans gave right-wing media outlets early access to their anti-FBI smear document after its release was authorized by Donald Trump, and they’re already paying a price for it.

Before the memo authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) was released to the public, or even the media at large, Fox News and the Washington Examiner were treated to an early look at the factually suspect document.

Even Chuck Todd couldn’t pull off a bothsiderism on that one.

Not long after the memo became public, hashtags like #NothingBurgerNunes and #NothingBurgerMemo started cropping up, proving that White House staff who feared it would be a dud were right.

While Republicans blocked the release of a Democratic memo written in response, minority members of the House Intelligence Committee released a statement today.

The premise of the Nunes memo is that the FBI and DOJ corruptly sought a FISA warrant on a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, and deliberately misled the court as part of a systematic abuse of the FISA process. As the Minority memo makes clear, none of this is true. The FBI had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant.

In order to understand the context in which the FBI sought a FISA warrant for Carter Page, it is necessary to understand how the investigation began, what other information the FBI had about Russia’s efforts to interfere with our election, and what the FBI knew about Carter Page prior to making application to the court – including Carter Page’s previous interactions with Russian intelligence operatives. This is set out in the Democratic response which the GOP so far refuses to make public.

The authors of the GOP memo would like the country to believe that the investigation began with Christopher Steele and the dossier, and if they can just discredit Mr. Steele, they can make the whole investigation go away regardless of the Russians’ interference in our election or the role of the Trump campaign in that interference. This ignores the inconvenient fact that the investigation did not begin with, or arise from Christopher Steele or the dossier, and that the investigation would persist on the basis of wholly independent evidence had Christopher Steele never entered the picture.

The DOJ appropriately provided the court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including evidence that Russian agents courted another Trump campaign foreign adviser, George Papadopoulos. As we know from Papadopoulos’ guilty plea, Russian agents disclosed to Papadopoulos their possession of stolen Clinton emails and interest in a relationship with the campaign. In claiming that there is ‘no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos,’ the Majority deliberately misstates the reason why DOJ specifically explained Russia’s role in courting Papadopoulos and the context in which to evaluate Russian approaches to Page.

The Majority suggests that the FBI failed to alert the court as to Mr. Steele’s potential political motivations or the political motivations of those who hired him, but this is not accurate. The GOP memo also claims that a Yahoo News article was used to corroborate Steele, but this is not at all why the article was referenced. These are but a few of the serious mischaracterizations of the FISA application. There are many more set out in the Democratic response, which we will again be seeking a vote to release publicly on Monday, February 5th.

It really is laughable that the entire case this memo makes in an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation is that Christopher Steele produced a partisan dossier that was used as the basis for getting FISA court approval to surveil Carter Page. The truth is that, even based on the little bit we know so far, Mueller could throw out the dossier and any intelligence gathered via surveillance of Carter and it wouldn’t make a dent in his ultimate findings.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.