House Intel Democrats Release GOP Counter-Memo

Update 3: Shortly after the memo's release, Trump responded on twitter, claiming first that "The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST. Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!"...

... followed by a tweet that in the "Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were - the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!"

The president concluded the mini tweetstorm as he traditionally does, by quoting Fox News that "Russians had no compromising information on Donald Trump” @FoxNews  Of course not, because there is none, and never was. This whole Witch Hunt is an illegal disgrace...and Obama did nothing about Russia!"

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Update 2: Not surprisingly, the most relevant part of the Democrat countermemo has been redacted: the discussion of "multiple independent sources" that "corroborated Steele's reporting", presumably more than just CNN, WaPo and NYT, who were allegedly hand fed leaked material straight from the DOJ, NSA, and FBI (via Strzok, Page and others).

Furthermore, as some have pointed out the Schiff memo states Steele began to share with an FBI agent through the end of October & played no role in the FISA warrant. This is wrong, because as previously disclosed, Steele first contacted FBI in July and later gave more info in August.


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Update: and here is Nunes' response to the Democratic countermemo: "What you’re not going to see is anything that actually rejects what was actually in our memo" he said, adding that  "What you basically will read in the Democratic memo is they are advocating that it is okay for the FBI and DOJ to use for political dirt paid for by one campaign and use it against the other campaign."

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Following President Trump's block (due to sources and methods needing to be redacted), and Rep Adam Schiff's admission that the Democratic Party memo (rebuttal of the GOP memo) also needed to be redacted further, House Intelligence Committee Democrats have released their memo countering the GOP document that alleged surveillance abuses in the Justice Department and FBI. 

After the memo’s release, its author, Dem. Adam Schiff said that "The Democratic response memo released today should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC."

The Democratic countermemo, which is published in entirety at the bottom, claims to "correct the record" on what the Democrats say is a "transparent effort to undermine" the FBI and Justice Department, as well as the Russia investigations, on the part of the committee's GOP members.

“FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” Democrats said in the 10-page document released Saturday.

“Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement and instead revealed that both the FBI and DOJ made extensive showings to justify all four requests,” said Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

As a result, as Bloomberg summarizes, "Americans now have two clashing, partisan accounts that claim to be true interpretations of a detailed court document that they can’t read for themselves because it remains classified."

In the memo, the House Intel Democrats claims that:

"FBI and DOJ officials did not "abuse" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign. In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA  warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government. DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA's probable cause requirement, by demonstrating:

  • contemporaneous evidence of Russia's election interference;
  • concerning Russian links and outreach to Trump campaign officials;
  • Page's history with Russian intelligence; and
  • Page's suspicious activities in 2016, including in Moscow.

The memo's key counterarguments are as follows (via Tim O'Brien):

  1. The Steele Dossier was not the catalyst for launching the Trump-Russia probe
  2. The rationale for surveilling Carter Page was carefully weighed.
  3. The Nunes memo used classified information selectively and included distortions and misrepresentations  
  4. Papadopoulos’ role as the original catalyst for the Trump-Russia investigation outlined.
  5. DOJ’s FISA application was carefully vetted and wasn’t used to spy on Trump or his campaign 
  6. Steele’s information about Page’s contacts with Kremlin insiders like Sechin was consistent with Papadopoulos information
  7. DOJ was transparent with the court about Steele’s role and why he had reliable information
  8. Nunes memo’s references to Ohr are misleading and the Strzok/Page texts are irrelevant

Some more details: as part of "correcting the record", the HPSCI democrats claim that:

  • Christopher Steele's raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI's decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. In fact, the FBI's closely-held investigative team only received Steele's reporting in mid-September – more than seven weeks later. The FBI – and, subsequently, the Special Counsel's – investigation into links between the Russian government and Trump campaign associates has been based on troubling law enforcement and intelligence information unrelated to the "dossier."
  • DOJ's October 21, 2016 FISA application and three subsequent renewals carefully outlined for the Court a multi-pronged rationale for surveilling Page, who, at the time of the first application, was no longer with the Trump campaign. DOJ detailed Page's past relationships with Russian spies and interaction with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign [REDACTED]. DOJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page — but made only narrow use of information from Steele's sources about Page's specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials.[REDACTED] In fact, the FBI interviewed Page in March 2016 about his contact with Russian intelligence, the very month candidate Donald Trump named him a foreign policy advisor.
  • DOJ's applications did not otherwise rely on Steele's reporting, including any "salacious" allegations about Trump, and the FBI never paid Steele for this reporting. While explaining why the FBI viewed Steele's reporting and sources as reliable and credible, DOJ also disclosed:

    • Steele's prior relationship with the FBI;

    • the fact of and reason for his termination as a source; and

    • the assessed political motivation of those who hired him.

  • The Committee Majority's memorandum, which draws selectively on highly sensitive classified information, includes other distortions and misrepresentations that are contradicted by the underlying classified documents, which the vast majority of Members of the Committee and the House have not had the opportunity to review and which Chairman Nunes chose not to read himself.

The countermemo keeps pounding that Steele had nothing to do with launching the FBI counterintel investigation into Russia interference:

Christopher Steele's reporting, which he began to share with an FBI agent [REDACTED] through the end of October 2016, played no role in launching the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference and links to the  Trump campaign. In fact, Steele's reporting did not reach the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters until mid-September 2016, more than seven weeks after the FBI opened its investigation, because the probe's existence was so closely held within the FBI. By then, the FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into [X] individuals linked to the Trump campaign.

In other words, it wasn't just Page, but more individuals in the Trump campaign that were being surveilled as of Sept.2 2016.

The countermemo also claims that "FISA was not used to spy on Trump or his campaign."

As the Trump campaign and Page have acknowledged, Page ended his formal affiliation with the campaign months before DOJ applied for a warrant. DOJ, moreover, submitted the initial application less than three weeks before the election, even though the FBI's investigation had been ongoing since the end of July 2016.

So what was the DOJ warrant on Page based on? Allegedly, on "compelling evidence and probable cause to believe Page was knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the U.S." including:

Page's Connections to Russian Government and Intelligence Officials: The FBI had an independent basis for investigating Page's motivations and actions during the campaign, transition, and following the inauguration.

Page remained on the radar of Russian intelligence and the FBI. In 2013, prosecutors indicted three other Russian spies, two of whom targeted Page for recruitment. The FBI also interviewed Page multiple times about his Russian intelligence contacts, including in March 2016.

The counter memo also notes Page's "Suspicious Activity During the 2016 Campaign: The FISA applications also detail Page's suspicious activity after joining the Trump campaign in March 2016." It is in this specific sub-section of the applications, the countermemo notes, that DOJ refers to Steele's reporting on Page and his alleged coordination with Russian officials.

Steele's information about Page was consistent with the FBI's assessment of Russian intelligence efforts to recruit him and his connections to Russian persons of interest.

In particular, Steele's sources reported that Page met separately while in Russia with Igor Sechin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin and executive chairman or Rosneft, Russia's state-owned oil company, and Igor Divyekin, a senior Kremlin official. Sechin allegedly discussed the prospect of future U.S.-Russia energy cooperation and "an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia." Divyekin allegedly disclosed to Page that the Kremlin possessed compromising information on Clinton ("kompromat") and noted "the possibility of its being released to Candidate #1's campaign." [Note: "Candidate #1" refers to candidate Trump.} This closely tracks what other Russian contacts were informing another Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos

Meanwhile, the memo claims that far from "omitting" material facts about Steele, "as the Majority claims, DOJ repeatedly informed the Court about Steele's background, credibility, and potential bias." It also claims that:

DOJ explained in detail Steele's prior relationship with and compensation from the FBI; his credibility, reporting history, and source network; the fact of and reason for his termination as a source in late October 2016; and the likely political motivations of those who hired Steele

Schiff also writes that "contrary to the Majority's assertion that DOJ fails to mention that Steele's research was commissioned by "political actors" to "obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump's ties to Russia," DOJ in fact informed the Court accurately that Steele was hired by politically-motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared intended for use "to discredit" Trump's campaign."

Here is Schiff on Steele's credibility:

DOJ explained the FBI's reasonable basis for finding Steele credible: The applications correctly described Steele as [REDACTED]. The applications also reviewed Steele's multi-year history of credible reporting on Russia and other  matters, including information DOJ used in criminal proceedings.  Senior FBI and DOJ officials have repeatedly affirmed to the Committee the reliability and credibility of Steele's reporting, an assessment also reflected in the FBI's underlying source documents. The FBI has undertaken a rigorous process to vet allegations from Steele's reporting, including with regard to Page.

Two claims which may prompt substantial pushback is Schiff's claim regarding Bruce Ohr, and that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page's text messages are irrelevant to the NSA application.

First, here is Schiff on Ohr:

The Majority's reference to Bruce Ohr is misleading. The Majority mischaracterizes Bruce Ohr's role, overstates the significance of his interactions with Steele, and misleads about the timeframe of Ohr's communication with the FBI. In late November 2016, Ohr informed the FBI of his prior professional relationship with Steele and information that Steele shared with him (including Steele's concern about Trump being compromised by Russia). He also described his wife's contract work with Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele separately. This occurred weeks after the election and more than a month after the Court approved the initial FISA application. The Majority describes Bruce Ohr as a senior DOJ official who "worked closely with the Deputy Attorney General, Yates and later Rosenstein," in order to imply that Ohr was somehow involved in the FISA process, but there is no indication this is the case.

Bruce Ohr is a well-respected career professional whose portfolio is drugs and organized crime, not counterintelligence. There is no evidence that he would have known about the Page FBA applications and their contents. The Majority's assertions, moreover, are irrelevant in determining the veracity of Steele's reporting. By the time Ohr debriefs with the FBI, it had already terminated Steele as a source and was independently corroborating Steele's reporting about Page's activities. Bruce Ohr took the initiative to inform the FBI of what he knew, and the Majority does him a grave disservice by suggesting he is part of some malign conspiracy.

Finally, Schiff would like you to know that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were completely irrelevant:

Peter Strzok and Lisa Page's text messages are irrelevant to the NSA application. The Majority gratuitously includes reference to Strzok and Page at the end of their memorandum, in an effort to imply that political bias infected the FBI's investigation and DOJ's FISA applications. In fact, neither Strzok nor Page served as affiants on the applications, which were the product of extensive and senior DOJ and FBI review. In demonizing both career professionals, the Majority accuses them of "orchestrating leaks to the media" – a serious charge; omits inconvenient text messages, in which they critiqued a wide range of other officials and candidates from both parties; does nut disclose that FBI Deputy Director McCabe testified to the Committee that he had no idea what Page and Strzok were referring to in their "insurance policy" texts, and ignores Strzok's acknowledged role in preparing a public declaration, by then Director Comey, about former Secretary Clinton's "extreme carelessness" in handling classified information—which greatly damaged Clinton's public reputation in the days just prior to the presidential election.

What Schiff failed to mention is that its was Strzok who was responsible for downgrading the language regarding Clinton's conduct from the criminal charge of "gross negligence" to "extremely careless."

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President Trump’s approval for the public posting of the counter-memo was reached on redacting parts of an earlier version for national security reasons. With the response memo’s release, Democrats on the committee got to lay out their case: that the panel’s Republican majority had cherry-picked and distorted information in an effort to undercut the probe that’s now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Moments after the memo's release, the White House issued a statement saying "while the democrats' memorandum attempts to undercut the president politically, the president supported its release in the interest of transparency."

Here is the full White House Response to the House Intelligence Committees release of the minority's memorandum, from Sarah Sanders:

While the Democrats' memorandum attempts to undercut the President politically, the President supported its release in the interest of transparency. Nevertheless, this politically driven document fails to answer serious concerns raised by the Majority's memorandum about the use of partisan opposition research from one candidate, loaded with uncorroborated allegations, as a basis to ask a court to approve surveillance of a former associate of another candidate, at the height of a presidential campaign.

As the Majority's memorandum stated: the FISA judge was never informed that Hillary Clinton and the DNC funded the dossier that was a basis for the Department of Justice's FISA application. In addition, the Minority's memo fails to even address the fact that the Deputy FBI Director told the Committee that had it not been for the dossier: no surveillance order would have been sought. As the President has long stated, neither he nor his campaign ever colluded with a foreign power during the 2016 election: and nothing in today's memo counters that fact."

- Sarah Sanders: White House Press Secretary

Full Democratic Rebuttal Memo below (pdf link):