DemDaily: MemoGate, Part Two
February 26, 2018
Three weeks after Republicans on the US House Intelligence Committee released a highly controversial memo aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation, Democrats were at last allowed to release their counter memo.
The much-anticipated Democratic rebuttal was delayed by the White House, which blocked its release until "sensitive material could be removed."Background
In addition to the Special Counsel's ongoing investigation, there are three formal Congressional probes into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
January 29: Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee announced they would be releasing, upon approval of the White House, a memo calling into question aspects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice's (DOJ) investigation.
The release of the confidential information in the middle of the Committee's investigation took Democratic members by surprise and set off alarms within the intelligence community.
January 31st: The FBI released a rare public statement citing "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy," and the Justice Department repeatedly warned against the release, stating it would set a bad precedent for making government secrets public, including sensitive sources of information and methods of intelligence gathering.
Democratic Committee members wrote a rebuttal memo, but the Republican majority on the Committee voted not to release it to the public at the same time, as is usually the practice. They instead referred it to the White House for review and a decision on release.
Chairman Nunes' decision, supported by House Speaker Ryan and Republican Members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to "refuse release of a comprehensive response memorandum prepared by Committee Democrats is a transparent effort to suppress the full truth."
-- Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee
February 2nd: Despite warnings from intelligence officials, the Republican memo, prepared under the guidance of Committee Chairman Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), was released, claiming that an original FISA warrant for surveillance of Trump campaign advisor Carter Page was improperly issued based on information in the "Steele Dossier." The dossier is a report prepared by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele which outlines illegal and scandalous allegations about Trump and his advisers' ties to Russia, including Page.
Republicans claim the "fact" that the private research was paid for by Democrats was excluded from the warrant application -- tainted the warrant as invalid.
The premise of the "Nunes memo" is that if the warrant were illegal then it undermines the legitimacy of the entire Russia investigation, the credibility of the FBI and DOJ, and sets up a scenario for the President to ultimately fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Last May Trump famously admitted to firing FBI Director James Comey over "the Russia thing," further incriminating himself in the scandal. However Comey's successor, Christopher Wray, has towed the ethical line at great frustration to the President.
Over the weekend the White House finally approved release of the heavily-redacted Democratic memo, which offers a point-by-point refutation of claims in the Nunes memo.
"I am not surprised that the White House tried to bury this memo for as long as they could, but it is important for the public to see the facts that the FBI acted appropriately ..."
Intelligence Committee Minority Leader Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Key among the points in the Democratic memo are that the FBI opened its counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump-Russia ties a full seven weeks prior to receiving the Steele Dossier.
It also points out that, in fact, it was reported, not excluded, that the Steele research was paid for by a political entity.
In addition, the Schiff memo reveals new information that, by September, 2016, the FBI had begun sub-investigations into several Trump associates other than Page, but those names are blocked out in the memo.
The battle within the Intelligence Committee, who met tonight for the first time since the Nunes memo was released, is hardly over. Tomorrow is another news day.
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Sources: CNN, Vox, New York Times, The Hill