A memorandum, supported by the GOP and “declassified on order of the President,” was made available to the public this past week. Donald F. McGahn, counsel to the President, wrote to Devin Nunes (R-CA), the author of the memo, that releasing it “would serve the public interest.”
For weeks, U.S. government officials, everyday Americans and troll accounts used social media to spread awareness on the matter. The hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo flowed mostly throughout Twitter as interest grew by the day.
The memo, which was submitted to the House Intelligence Committee on Jan. 18, describes itself as “an update” on abuses of power by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “during the 2016 presidential election cycle.”
To quote directly from the memo, “on October 21, 2016, DOJ and FBI sought and received a [FISC] probable cause order authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page.” Page was a policy advisor to Trump during the 2016 election season.
The concentration of this issue surrounds itself around the so-called evidence used to obtain this warrant against Page—a warrant that essentially gave way for government investigation, under the control of a politically differing administration, of a U.S. presidential candidate’s former staff and possibly the campaign itself; only time will tell if the rabbit hole goes any deeper.
The memo states that “material and relevant information was omitted” during “at least four independent” meetings between the DOJ, FBI, and FISC. FISC, which stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for years has been scrutinized for its notorious surveillance of American citizens, especially following the passing of the 2001 Patriot Act. This means that the DOJ and FBI, including top officials from both, neglected to inform the FISC of important details regarding the case.
Some of the biggest pieces of “relevant information,” that were “omitted,” was critical aspects of a controversial “dossier” that was “essential” in obtaining the FISC warrants. Authored by former British spy Christopher Steele, this report has since been dubbed the “Trump Dossier” or “Steele Dossier.”
This document is a widely disputed report on Trump’s “activities in Russia.” The issue with this report is that it was written by an avid opponent of Trump and ultimately funded by Trump’s political rivals; the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The dossier, in short, claims that Trump was being intimidated, supported and sponsored by the Russian government in some fashion during the election. One of the assertions states that the FSB, Russia’s own CIA, was blackmailing Trump over “sexual acts” he supposedly committed while staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow.
This report is riddled with unsubstantiated accusations and mysterious sources. Senator Lindsey Graham said that the dossier was a piece of “garbage” composed by “a foreign agent” who was funded by the Democratic Party. Graham even referred the author to the DOJ for criminal investigation.
Furthermore, the memo states that “neither the initial [warrant] . . . nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference” how the dossier was funded by the DNC and the Clinton Campaign “even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.” If the warrants were renewed multiple times, as described by the memo, it means that the DOJ and FBI were investigating these matters even after Trump was sworn into office.
More shockingly, former FBI Director James Comey said the dossier contained “salacious and unverified” claims, even though he himself signed multiple FISA applications that used the dossier as evidence.
The memo also explains that “an independent unit within [the] FBI assessed” the dossier “as only minimally corroborated.” A top FBI official, Bill Priestap, even admitted that the dossier “was in its infancy” when it was first used to obtain the FISC warrant. This, and other indications, verifies that the evidence used to authorize surveillance against the Trump campaign was politically motivated and unconfirmed.
This begs the question, what else was this dossier used for in terms of federal investigations and is it a main piece of evidence in Mueller’s overall investigation as well?
Subsequent investigation of Steele and his dossier by the Senate Judiciary Committee has uncovered his partiality and unprofessionalism. Not only did Steele say he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected,” but he was also “terminated as an FBI source” when he disclosed his relationship with the Bureau to journalists. The FBI considers this “the most serious of violations.”
After Steele was ousted, the Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr kept in contact with him. The memo reveals that this improper communication was only the tip of the iceberg. It turns out Ohr’s wife was employed by the research firm, Fusion GPS, to “assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump” alongside Steele.
The memo points out that if the FBI felt Steele’s actions, revealed in an article published on Oct. 30, 2016, were unbecoming, then he should have been dismissed as a source sooner. If he had been duly fired based on his unethical leaks to the media in September of 2016, the warrants against Page may have never been filed.
To dive a little deeper, the memo also notes significant information on members of Mueller’s team charged with investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. 384 pages of text messages between these team members—Peter Strzok, an FBI agent, and Lisa Page, a lawyer and Strzok’s alleged mistress—were and still are under investigation by the Committee on the Judiciary, the Inspector General’s office, and journalists alike.
Strzok was investigating Hillary Clinton as well before he was “reassigned” to FBI Human Resources “for improper text messages…where [he and Lisa Page] demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton.”
To again quote the memo, “the Strzok/Lisa Page texts also reflect extensive discussions about the investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media” and, most seriously, “include a meeting with [newly former FBI] Deputy Director McCabe” wherein there was conversation about an “insurance policy against President Trump’s election.”
Some of the texts include mentions of “pulling punches” during the Clinton investigation, derogatory comments about House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican Party and President Trump, obscene and lewd language towards President Trump as well as them both agreeing that candidate Trump should go “F himself.”
A letter from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), on behalf of the Committee on the Judiciary, to FBI Director Christopher Wray states that the committee has “serious concerns about the impartiality of senior leadership running both the Clinton and Trump investigations.” Furthermore, the committee was also troubled by the fact that, for over five months, the FBI “did not preserve text messages” between Strzok and Lisa Page.
It is also notable to mention that, while investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server, Strzok and Lisa Page “transmitted federal records pertaining to the Clinton investigation on private, non-government services.”
In conclusion, this multifarious issue boils down to two main points. As the memo states, these disclosures “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with [FISC]” as well as “represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes” that are in place to “protect American people.”
Without more oversight and civilian scrutiny of government spying we cannot ensure Americans’ privacy and Fourth Amendment rights. To simplify it even more, as Senator Graham said, “somebody has to watch those who watch us.”
Salvatore Pinero is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. ✉ SP828988@wcupa.edu.