Much has been discussed about the House intelligence committee memo released by chairman David Nunes, with Republican pundits claiming that the memo shows a direct politicization of the FBI and the DOJ during the Obama years while Democrat pundits are claiming that the memo shows no such thing, and that the “Nunes-memo” has been over-hyped. What’s real, what’s important, and what’s relevant varies from publication to publication. Here are five fast facts that you need to know about the Nunes Memo:
Backstory of the FISC and FISA warrants:
(If you are familiar with the FISC and FISA warrants, feel free to skip down to the 5 Fast Facts section)
First and foremost, it’s important to understand the relevance of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and its relation to the 4th Amendment.
The 4th Amendment of the United States:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Part of what this is saying is that the federal government may not conduct search and seizures, including wire-tapping of private citizens, without establishing reasonable cause to a court of law.
The FISC is known as a “secret court” because its proceedings are withheld from public view. Due to the sensitive nature of each case, the only ones with information on any FISC case are the FISC judges and the federal government lawyers who are permitted to argue before the court.
The FISC grants Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to allow the federal government to surveil foreign spies inside the United States. Because this type of surveillance sometimes also picks up American citizens, an example would be an American diplomat speaking to a foreign ambassador who is under surveillance from a FISA warrant, the American citizens have their identities masked in any transcripts that come out. They might be called, for example, American #1, or American #2 if there are more then one.
This is why it was such a big deal when Former national security adviser to President Obama, Susan Rice, admitted to unmasking the names and identities of Trump aides who were speaking to Russian ambassadors. These were American citizens who were picked up incidentally, through the Obama administration’s surveillance of foreign diplomats, whose identities should have been protected by the 4th amendment.
In any event, the FISC is not accountable to the public, and has no oversight other than by the Chief Justice of the United States, who appoints the members to the secret court. For that reason, it is imperative that the FISC remain untainted by political bias and corruption.
5 FAST FACTS ABOUT THE NUNES MEMO:
#1 The Obama administration sought a FISA warrant to surveil then-Trump adviser Carter Paige. According to the Nunes Memo, the federal government omitted information that would have been favorable to Paige during the initial application process as well as each of the three 90-day FISA warrant renewal applications.
#2 The Steele Dossier “formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.” If you are unfamiliar with it, the Steele Dossier is a piece of opposition research that the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaigned paid $160,000 for. The money was funneled through the law firm Perkins Coie, who hired the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, who then paid former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to come up with a report that contained derogatory information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
#3 The Carter Paige FISA warrant application did not mention that the Steele Dossier was a piece of opposition research, nor did it mention that it was paid for by the Hillary Clinton Campaign and the DNC. The intelligence community merely provided the FISC with the Steele Dossier as if it were a genuine intelligence document.
#4 The Carter Paige FISA warrant application also cites a Yahoo! News story by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. The application does not include the fact that it was Michael Steele who met with Yahoo! News and provided the information for their story. The Nunes Memo also points out that Michael Steele met with other news outlets to feed anti-Trump information to them. What this demonstrates is that Michael Steele was used, indirectly, to verify his own anti-Trump dossier by feeding information to the media. The DOJ and the FBI used the media news stories, whose information came from Michael Steele, to validate the false claims in Michael Steele’s opposition research.
#5 Michael Steele was hired by the FBI to provide more anti-Trump information, but was subsequently fired for his leaking sensitive information to the media. After being fired, however, Steele maintained contact with then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr. After the election of Donald Trump, the FBI began to examine the communications between Ohr and Steele, and discovered an openly biased attitude on the part of Michael Steele. For example, the Nunes Memo includes a statement made by Steele that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This obvious bias was not included in the FISA warrant application to surveil Carter Paige.
You can read the explanation of releasing the Nunes Memo publicly as well as the memo itself below: