Analysis The FBI has slammed a still-secret memo that claims the bureau was politically motivated when it requested a wiretap on a key advisor of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.
In a statement released Wednesday, the law enforcement agency said it was "provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it" – referring to a decision by the House Intelligence Committee to release the four-page memo to congressfolk last week.
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The FBI statement, emailed to journalists, continued: "As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy."
Ironically, the strong statement indicates that President Trump will approve the public release of the memo – written by committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) with the help of Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) – later this week.
Such a release would go against the strong objections of FBI director Christopher Wray and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, both of whom visited the White House earlier this week to urge against publication on the grounds it would put national security at risk.
Although access to the memo remains limited to members of Congress, its contents are now widely known thanks to leaks. At the heart of it is a wiretap of former Trump advisor Carter Page, approved through the secretive US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The memo attempts to paint a decision by the FBI and the Department of Justice to seek a warrant against Page, and a subsequent decision to extend that warrant, as a sign that both organizations were actively trying to undermine the Trump campaign, ie: that their investigations were politically motivated.
That there was a wiretap of a key Trump advisor is not news: it was by far the most likely scenario to explain how the FBI and DoJ were able to inform the White House that several of its advisors – including former national security adviser Michael Flynn – had allegedly lied about their interactions with Russian officials.
Flynn was subsequently fired as a result of those revelations, and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in its subsequent probe into Russian interference in the presidential election.
The claim of a politically motivated investigation doesn't appear to gel with the facts: we now know that US intelligence agents were warned repeatedly about concerns over Donald Trump and his team's connections to Russia by other spy agencies across the globe: from Germany, Holland, and the UK.
A lack of action on the part of the FBI led to one individual – Christopher Steele – turning to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to make his concerns known to the US political establishment. Steele, a former British spy, was the author of an explosive report suggesting that Trump had been compromised by Russian intelligence services. When the Brit's dossier landed in McCain's hands, the senator personally visited the FBI to urge an investigation.
Despite deep concerns and a number of inquiries from the bureau during the US presidential campaign, the Feds never made their fears public.
However, then FBI director James Comey did make the decision, during the final stages of the White House race, to publicly announce he was reopening an investigation into the emails of Trump's presidential rival Hillary Clinton – an action that many believe ultimately contributed to her losing the election. The investigation turned up nothing new.
Given the history, it is peculiar that at this stage the House Intelligence Committee would try to argue that the FBI or DoJ was trying to undermine Donald's campaign.
The sad truth is the memo and the surrounding furore is about political expediency and an effort to undercut what many fear will be a damning assessment of the president and his team by special investigator Robert Mueller, who is formally looking into Russian meddling in the outcome of America's elections.
But first, what are the "material omissions of fact" that the FBI says "fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy"?
The Feds are loathe to talk about them publicly because they would indicate how the agency carries out its work. Democrat representatives on the intelligence committee have given a strong indication of what they are in a dissenting response to the memo.
Unfortunately, that dissenting memo is also not publicly available, and the House Intelligence Committee has refused to widely release it, resulting in yet more leaks about its contents.
In essence, the claim from Republicans is that the FBI sought a wiretap on the basis of Steele's report – a report that was in part financed by the Democratic National Committee. It attempts to paint a conspiratorial link between that financial support, the resulting Steele dossier, and the subsequent FBI investigation.
What the Democrats on the intelligence committee and the FBI have strongly suggested, however, is that there was other evidence beyond the Steele report that implied Carter Page was allegedly acting as a Russian agent. If that is the case, the FBI would have been remiss not to have opened an investigation into Page and gone to the US foreign surveillance court to ask for permission to listen in on his communications. Page denies any wrongdoing.
It is also notable that this entire saga kicked off literally the day after Congress passed a six-year extension to a controversial mass-spying program that snoops on foreigners while also scooping up American citizens' communications. In other words, it was a carefully constructed and timed campaign.