Leahy Statement On The Release Of The Nunes Memo

Last Friday, Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, received approval from President Trump to release a classified memo that purports to show that a FISA application to conduct surveillance of a Trump campaign aide was politically motivated.  Over the weekend, the President, speaking in the third person, told us that this memo “totally vindicates ‘Trump’” in the Russia investigation.  Following a pattern that has become all too familiar, the President also viciously attacked the FBI in a series of tweets.

There are more than a few problems with this.  The most disturbing of which go well beyond this highly flawed and misleading memo.  But in case anyone believes this memo represents a serious attempt to address serious problems within the FBI, or within our FISA surveillance authorities, I want to raise a few points to consider.                                                         

For years I have been leading calls in the Senate to protect our civil liberties and reform our surveillance authorities under FISA.  This memo has absolutely nothing to do with improving FISA.  Nor does this partisan memo have anything to do with serious oversight of FISA authorities more broadly.

Instead, whether intentional or not, this memo represents a direct attack on rank and file professionals in our law enforcement and national security agencies.  The memo deliberately distorts the multilayered process that is required to obtain and renew a judicial warrant for a suspected foreign agent.  This meticulous process is conducted by career, nonpartisan professionals.  And in this case that process led to a warrant, approved by a federal judge and renewed three times, for Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.                                                                      

Carter Page is an individual who bragged about his ties to Russia; he even claimed at one point to be an advisor to the Kremlin.  He was also targeted for recruitment by known Russian spies beginning in 2013.  Both of these facts are conveniently left out of the Nunes memo.   

But the Nunes memo was not about capturing relevant facts, or conducting actual oversight.  If it were, the House Intelligence Chairman would have read the underlying intelligence that purported to form the basis of the memo.  He did not.  If it were about actual oversight, he would have granted the FBI Director’s request to brief his Committee prior to releasing the memo.  He did not.  And if it were about transparency, he would have allowed the Democratic response memo to be released at the same time.  He did not. 

Instead, his Committee voted along party-lines last week to block the Democratic response.  We will learn later this evening if they will change course and allow its release.

Proponents of this memo claim it proves that the FISA warrant of Carter Page was politically motivated.  They claim that the so-called Steele dossier was the reason why a FISA warrant was granted, and that the dossier could not be relied on when it was indirectly funded by Democratic interests.  Never mind that this document was only one part of a lengthy FISA application establishing probable cause.                              

Never mind that this judge was explicitly informed of the likelihood of a political motivation behind the dossier—another fact conveniently left out of the memo that undermines its central claim that the FBI hid the ball on the dossier’s political origins.  And never mind that the dossier was originally funded by a conservative newspaper, or that its author had previously been assessed by the FBI to be a reliable source.                                                         

One can disregard all of those facts, and still see the memo for what it is: a complete and utter dud.  The memo itself disproves its own premise.  Because of its reference to the controversial Steele dossier, President Trump and his allies paint this FISA application as the Russia investigation’s original sin.  But the memo also reveals that an entirely separate source, unrelated to the Steele dossier, provided information to the FBI that triggered the opening of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into individuals associated with the Trump campaign.  Oddly enough, we did not see the President tweeting about that over the weekend.

What we know about this memo leads to one—and only one—conclusion: The FBI did its job.  Rank and file national security professionals within the FBI and DOJ acted appropriately when obtaining a FISA warrant of Carter Page.  The President’s attacks on these career professionals for obtaining the FISA warrant are entirely without merit. 

While the Nunes memo reveals nothing about abuses within the FISA process, it reveals a lot about the President and House Republicans who released it.  It represents yet another desperate, hyper-partisan attempt to smear key Justice Department officials and undermine the Russia investigation. 

It is worth remembering what is at stake here. This is not about the Nunes memo—which is nothing more than a sloppy, bad faith attempt to distract from the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation.  Nor is this about the Steele dossier, which represents an almost irrelevant side-story.                              

The only thing that matters here is that a foreign adversary attacked our democracy in 2016, suffered no consequences, and is poised to do it again.  The President is not willing to address this threat—he is not even willing to implement sanctions on Russia that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress. The only thing this President has done in response to this threat is to disparage the very people who defend our country from such foreign attacks—our dedicated law enforcement and intelligence professionals.  

With this president, it is Trump first and America second.

It is more important than ever that the Special Counsel be able to complete his investigation without further interference from the President or his misguided allies in Congress.  We need to know how Russia interfered in our election, and whether anyone in the President’s circle aided that effort or tried to cover it up.

I have been in the Senate for 42 years.  I have never been as concerned as I am today for the institutions in our country, and for our ability to stay united in the face of a true, unprecedented threat.  Russia will be back.  Enough with the partisan distractions.  It is past time that we face this threat standing together.  The American people deserve that much.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693