Now that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has finally released his much-anticipated report on alleged misconduct by the FBI during the 2016 election, two famous memos — one released by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes while he was House Intelligence Committee chairman, and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who has since taken over the position — have come under renewed scrutiny. The memos presented dueling versions of how the FBI began to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in an effort to investigate alleged “collusion” with Russia.
So who had it right? A fact-checker for The Washington Post has been forced to admit that Nunes got a “fair amount” right — in fact, his version of events aligned far more closely with what Horowitz found than the Democrats’ rebuttal.
“[H]ow much is the Nunes memo itself vindicated?” The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake asks in a fact-check published Friday. “A fair amount, it turns out,” writes Blake, adding in an attempt at a qualifier “at least, in Horowitz’s estimation.”
Blake then walks through the parallel passages in each memo and compares them with what Horowitz’s extensive report concludes, beginning with the most important disagreement between the two: “how accurate and complete the four [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)] applications to surveil Page were.” It turns out that Nunes’ claims aligned more closely with what took place, while Schiff’s counter featured “probably the worst line of the Democrats’ rebuttal.”
Nunes: “In the case of Carter Page, the government had at least four independent opportunities before the FISC to accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts. However, our findings indicate that, as described below, material and relevant information was omitted.”
Democrats: “FBI and DOJ officials did not abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign. … DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet probable cause requirement.”
Horowitz: “We identified at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications, and many additional errors in the Woods Procedures. These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information to [the Justice Department National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence] and failing to flag important issues for discussion.”
Horowitz additionally found that “a now-former FBI lawyer altered a document to make it look like Page wasn’t a source for another government agency, when in fact he was — a fact that could have been exculpatory for Page,” Blake notes.
Another key claim made in Nunes’ memo is that the Democrat-funded dossier by Christopher Steele was “an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.” The Democrats countered by claiming that the FBI “made only narrow use” of the notorious, unverified and salacious Steele dossier:
Nunes: “The dossier … formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application. … Furthermore, Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.”
Democrats: “DOJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page but made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials. … DOJ’s applications did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump.”
Horowitz: “We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order.” A fourth element of the initial FISA application, claiming Page coordinated with Russia on behalf of the campaign, “relied entirely on” information from the dossier.
While Blake describes the differences here as “nuanced,” the language in Horowitz’ report is clear enough: Nunes’ once again presents a more accurate description of events than the Democrats’.
A third key disagreement: whether the FBI was transparent about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s role in funding the Steele dossier:
Nunes: “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.”
Democrats: “DOJ in fact informed the Court accurately that Steele was hired by politically-motivated U.S. persons and entities and that his research appeared intended for use ‘to discredit’ Trump’s campaign.”
Horowitz: A footnote in the application “stated that Steele was hired by an identified U.S. person (Glenn Simpson) to conduct research regarding ‘Candidate # 1’s’ (Donald Trump) ties to Russia and that the FBI ‘speculates’ that this U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit the Trump campaign.” The FBI “assumed, but did not know at the time of the first application, that Steele was conducting opposition research.”
While the Democrats’ note is accurate, it fails to take into account that the ties to the DNC and Clinton were omitted in later applications despite the FBI having by then learned about the connection. Horowitz includes this omission as part of his list of 17 omissions and errors he details in his report.
Blake also looks at the differences in how the two memos presented the issue of Steele’s role as a key source for the Sept. 23, 2016 Yahoo News report cited in the FISA application. The failure to correct the note stating Steele was not a source for that article is also something Horowitz included in his list of 17 omission and errors by the FBI:
Nunes: “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News. The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News.”
Democrats: “The Majority falsely claims that the FISA materials ‘relied heavily’ on a September 23, 2016 Yahoo! News article by Michael Isikoff … In fact, DOJ referenced lsikoff’s article, alongside another article the Majority fails to mention, not to provide separate corroboration for Steele’s reporting, but instead to inform the Court of Page’s public denial of his suspected meetings in Moscow, which Page also echoed in a September 25, 2016 letter to FBI Director Comey.”
Horowitz’s finding: The FBI “failed to correct the assertion in the first FISA application that the FBI did not believe that Steele directly provided information to the reporter who wrote the September 23 Yahoo News article, even though there was no information in the Woods File to support this claim and even after certain Crossfire Hurricane officials learned in 2017, before the third renewal application, of an admission that Steele made in a court filing about his interactions with the news media in the late summer and early fall of 2016.”
Blake again tries to give the Democrats some credit for their claim, particularly that the reference to the article appears to have been intended “to inform the Court of Page’s public denial of his suspected meetings in Moscow,” but, again, Nunes is correct in the key claim: Steele’s role as a source was inaccurately denied.
While the Post titles its piece as a question — asking “Vindication For The Nunes Memo?” — the evidence provides a clear answer.