Two important pieces of information undermine Republican spin on the memo

This is awkward.

Rep.  Devin Nunes (R-CA) attends a House Ways and Means Committee markup of the Republicans tax reform plan titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act., on Capitol Hill November 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) attends a House Ways and Means Committee markup of the Republicans tax reform plan titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act., on Capitol Hill November 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Friday, House Republicans released a long-awaited memo meant to prove that both the FBI and Department of Justice abused surveillance powers in investigating a former Trump campaign adviser.

The memo is part of an effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into any ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Republicans wanted to use the memo to make the case that the FBI abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to begin surveillance of 2016 Trump presidential campaign adviser Carter Page by relying on research partially funded by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) without disclosing that fact.

Unfortunately for President Trump, the 3.5 page memo didn’t actually say this.

Instead, the last paragraph of the memo confirms that the investigation began due to the FBI’s concerns about another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopolous. As the New York Times previously reported, Papadopolous told a top Australian diplomat that Moscow had sensitive information on Hillary Clinton just two months before emails from the DNC were leaked. The memo confirms that the investigation did not begin due to the Steele dossier, a research document that fleshes out ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele with funds from both the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

But conservative media is pointing to the memo as proof that the FBI has anti-Trump bias and didn’t disclose that their investigation began due to the Steele dossier.


On Friday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity argued that the memo “proves that the entire basis for the Russia investigation was based on lies that were bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton.” He then called for the entire Mueller investigation to be shut down and the people responsible sent to jail.

Again, Hannity is wrong; the memo clearly states that the Steele dossier did not spark the investigation. But there’s also one other important piece of information here. At least three publications — the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post — have confirmed that the FBI told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that some of the information the bureau was using in its surveillance request was funded by a political group.

As the Washington Post reported:

The Justice Department made “ample disclosure of relevant, material facts” to the court that revealed “the research was being paid for by a political entity,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

Former senior Justice Department officials who handled applications for wiretap warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) say that such applications typically include dozens of pages and undergo rigorous vetting.

“We didn’t put in every fact, but we put in enough facts to allow the court to judge bias and motive and credibility of the sourcing,” said Matthew G. Olsen, former deputy assistant attorney general for national security who oversaw the Justice Department’s FISA program from 2006 to 2009.

The Wall Street Journal similarly reported that the FBI’s FISA application “did disclose Mr. Steele was being paid by a law firm working for a major political party, according to a person familiar with the matter.”


Democrats have argued that the memo’s claim that the FBI didn’t notify the court about the funding of the dossier is inaccurate. As the New York Times reported:

… a 10-page Democratic memo written to rebut the Republican document says that the FBI was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than the Republicans say. The F.B.I. told the court that the information it received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated, though the agency did not say it was financed by Democrats, according to two people familiar with the Democratic memo.

In other words, there are now two problems for Hannity and others arguing that the entire Russia investigation is bogus: First, the investigation is not solely based on the Steele dossier. Second, the FBI clearly informed the court that the information it received from Steele was politically motivated.

The FBI did not “purposely [deceive] a federal court,” as much as Hannity would have liked this to be the case. The information seems to have been there all along.