WASHINGTON – Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff on Sunday defended a memo released this weekend that rebutted allegations that the FBI and Justice Department had acted improperly in their investigation of the Trump campaign.
"I’m not surprised, frankly, that the White House tried to bury this memo response as long as they could," said Schiff of California on CNN's State of the Union. "But it’s important for the public to see the facts, that the FBI acted appropriately."
A redacted version of the memo compiled by Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was released in response to a GOP memo that alleged the FBI abused its power to conduct surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
President Trump dismissed the Democratic memo, released Saturday, as a “total political and legal bust' and called Schiff a "bad guy."
The Democratic memo pushes back on a number of claims Republicans made in their memo released earlier this month, throwing details of the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election into an almost he-said-she-said story.
Here are some key takeaways:
1. FBI didn't rely solely on dossier
Democrats say the FBI did not rely on the controversial dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which was in part funded by Democrats, when they started investigating Page.
The FBI was already investigating Page, who had been assessed to be an "agent of the Russian government," prior to the FBI receiving the dossier.
The timeline in the Democratic memo says the FBI decided to start its investigation into Page in late July 2016. It received Steele's dossier in mid-September, more than six weeks later.
The memo says that when a FISA surveillance warrant was requested for Page, the Department of Justice outlined his relationships with Russian spies and other officials over the years and during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The warrant made "only narrow use" of information in Steele's dossier, Democrats say, adding that the Justice Department also included the "assessed political motivation of those who hired him."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who helped draft the Republican memo, said early this month that the FISA warrant applications relied on more than Steele's dossier but that the warrant would not have been issued without it.
2. FBI knows more about Page than it’s saying
The central issue in the back-and-forth memos from the House Intelligence Committee is the evidence used to secure a warrant to eavesdrop on Page. The committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., says the FBI relied too much on a dossier by Steele.
But the Schiff memo suggests the FBI had independent reasons for investigating Page — reasons that were redacted from the released version of the Schiff memo. At least 14 of the blacked-out portions of the Schiff memo come immediately following or in the same sentence as Page’s name. Those still-secret passages appear to detail Page’s “suspicious” activities in Moscow in 2016 and his past relationships with Russian spies.
“As early as (redacted), a Russian intelligence officer (redacted) targeted Page for recruitment,” reads one partially released sentence — followed by another blacked-out passage about Page’s response.
During a trip to Russia during the 2016 election, he is accused of meeting with Igor Sechin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Igor Divyekin, another senior Kremlin official, the memo said.
The memo alleges that during the meeting Page was offered compromising information on Hillary Clinton, who was running against then-candidate Donald Trump.
Page remains a central figure in the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election but has not been charged with wrongdoing by special counsel Robert Mueller.
3. FBI verified some information in Steele dossier
The details of what exactly the Justice Department verified from the dossier were redacted, but the memo does outline three points that were made in the dossier that the Justice Department corroborated on its own.
All three were redacted. Some words, including "Page's," "Moscow" and "senior Russian officials" were not blacked out.
Schiff uses the bullet points to argue the FBI had additional evidence supporting the Steele dossier but it's hard to assess with the redactions and because the actual warrant remains a secret.
Schiff also concedes that some of that independent corroboration came in the renewals to the FISA warrant — not the original warrant in October.
And most conspicuously, Schiff’s response is silent on one of the most damning allegations from the Nunes memo: That acting FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee in December that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) without the Steele dossier information.”
4. FBI said dossier was politically motivated – but not how
The Steele dossier had its origins in opposition research commissioned by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, and was later paid for by an attorney representing the Democratic National Committee. A key allegation of the Nunes memo was that the FBI failed to tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of those facts.
“Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials,” the Nunes memo said.
But the Schiff memo provides additional context. It quotes the original warrant application on Oct. 21 as saying that the “FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.” That candidate, of course, was Trump.
Schiff said those generic descriptions were the result of an FBI policy of not “unmasking” sources or targets of intelligence — something Republicans have accused the Obama White House of doing. But even without specific names, Schiff argues, the FBI “provided the Court with more than sufficient information to understand the political context of Steele's research.”
Trump took particular issue with the FBI not detailing in the application that Steele was being paid by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
"FBI did not disclose who the clients were — the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Wow!" he posted Saturday evening to Twitter.
In another tweet, he said the Democratic memo "just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!"
5. Many Trump campaign officials were under investigation before the election
It wasn’t just Page in the FBI cross hairs at the time of the October 2016 warrant application.
A redacted portion of the Schiff memo reveals that the FBI had opened “sub-inquiries” into a number of people associated with the Trump campaign. The exact number of those inquires was blacked out.
But in what one former national security official speculated was a mistake in the redactions, a footnote to that passage outlined five cases against Trump officials that originated in that time frame.
They included Manafort, Gates and Page — but also Trump campaign energy adviser George Papadopoulos and future national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn, who was fired in the first weeks of the Trump administration, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.
6. The timing of the memo's release blunts its impact
The Justice Department completed its review of the Schiff memo and signed off on its release on a Saturday — an unusual timetable for a government agency. But the public release also came just moments before Nunes — Schiff’s chief antagonist in this debate — was set to take the stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee in suburban Washington.
“In these days, it seems like news is breaking all the time, and I think it’s important for all our CPAC attendees to know that there’s news breaking literally right now with the release of this Schiff memo,” CPAC President Matt Schlapp said in introducing Nunes at the conference.
“It just posted,” Nunes said. “The website probably crashed, so no one can read it right now.”
The timing gave Nunes the opportunity to give his reaction to the memo before most people had even read it. “We actually wanted this out,” he said. “This has been held up for over two weeks. … They waited for two weeks before doing the redactions necessary to get this out.”
The memo’s release also comes the day after Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official and associate of onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Mueller also secured additional indictments against Manafort by two different grand juries on Friday.