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On Feb. 2 President Trump declassified a memo put together by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA). It alleges improper investigations and bias against the Trump campaign. The president has supported the memo’s release against the warnings of the FBI and other members of Congress. On the day of its release, President Trump responded to a reporter’s inquiry into his thoughts on the memo saying, “I think it’s terrible. You want to know the truth? I think it’s a disgrace.”
The memo has five main premises that support the chairman’s belief that the FBI acted against then-candidate Trump maliciously which includes the presentation of specious evidence to support surveillance on Trump campaign officials and alleged bias from FBI agents against the Trump campaign.
The first premise argues that the Steele dossier, compiled by Christopher Steele, a former member of the British Intelligence Agency MI6, is untrustworthy evidence. The memo points out that the dossier was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), at a price tag of over $160,000. The dossier itself is still unverified and will not be described, though other media outlets have published its accounts. The memo makes the case that the dossier was to serve as dirt against then-candidate Trump and that the motives of the stakeholders involved should be questioned.
The second premise states the Carter Page was unjustly surveilled by the FBI, based on a Yahoo! article that describes Page’s 2016 visit to Moscow. The claim being made is that the article is based on tips that Christopher Steele gave to the media and thus cannot be trusted. Steele was terminated as an FBI source but information that he provided to media and the resulting articles were used by the FBI continually to justify surveillance orders, the memo argues.
The third premise states that Steele continued to correspond with high-ranking members of the federal government’s justice and law enforcement agencies and did so with the intent to prevent Donald Trump from being elected president. It alleges that in Sep. 2016 Steele told Bruce Ohr, then-Associate Deputy Attorney General, that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” Ohr was later interviewed by the FBI, who shared Steele’s positions, yet the memo argues the FBI withheld Steele’s biases when filing for surveillance on Carter Page.
The fourth premise states that dossier was crucial for the FISA application to surveil Carter Page though it was in its “infancy” in the words of Assistant Director Bill Priestap. In December 2017, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified that the surveillance orders wouldn’t have been issued if the Steele dossier exist. And the fifth premise points to the claim of abuses of power within the FBI. It cites text messages between agent Pete Strzok and an FBI attorney Lisa Page that show disdain for the Trump campaign.
The memo argues that the FBI has shown systemic abuses of power against the Trump campaign. Many in media and law have dismissed it as partisan bickering and an instrument to support the White House. Most strident in their dissent have been Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) who is the Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, whom President Trump appointed as FBI Director in Aug. 2017 after the dismissal of former-Director James Comey.
The most striking thing is the division the president is inciting within his own intelligence agencies. He impugned the FBI, saying “that a lot of people [in the FBI] should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.” He preceded that comment by saying, “I think that it’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country.”
The memo’s impacts are unknown, but it certainly puts political pressure on the FBI, a law enforcement agency above the realm of politics. Andrew McCabe stepped down on Jan. 29 with potentially more shake ups to come in the future. The memo may actually backfire, creating a more politicized FBI with appointments given on the basis of political leanings although that implication may never fully be understood.