We’ll bring you Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel’s tweetstorm in a moment, but I’ll take a stab at answering her question about the media right out of the gate.
(1) The GOP hyped the Nunes memo, which quickly became the center of this whole firestorm — replete with counter-memos, FBI objections, etc. The press followed the spotlight.
(2) As we’ve been saying, there are so many complex pieces of this larger puzzle, following the plot is difficult. It’s not just news consumers wondering, “which memo is this now?” — it’s many of the people trying to cover this drama, too. The document in question here is a second, less redacted, version of a Senate memo that few people have even heard of.
(3) The Senate memo, produced by non-bomb-throwers Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, is substantially more disruptive to the Democrats’ narrative than the Nunes document. And the press generally prefers Democratic narratives to Republican ones because most journalists are liberals.
My guess is that some blend of all three factors helps explain why the Grassley/Graham memo has barely registered on the national radar, even after we’ve endured multiple high-octane news cycles starring Nunes and Schiff. But on the substance, does Strassel have a point, or is this just the latest shiny object the right-wing is waving around to distract from “the real story,” now that the Nunes memowas arguably a bit of a dud? Here’s her case:
Does that all of check out? Allahpundit digs into the document (a much more redacted version had been released previously) and seems to agree that Grassley/Graham is a significantly bigger deal than Nunes. In our analysis of the latter document last week, we wrote that a major question was how much the DOJ relied on the Steele dossier itself to gain a FISA warrant against former Trump adviser Carter Page. According to Grassley/Graham, the answer is a lot. I posited that if investigators had used the unverified dossier as a starting point from which to chase down leads and produce more solid evidence to present to a FISA judge, that’d be one thing. But if they leaned heavily on Steele’s file itself as the “evidence,” that would be sketchier. According to the two GOP Senators, the FBI did the latter. From AP’s excellent summary (the relevant bits of the memo itself are here and here):
…“The bulk of the application” against Page was dossier material…“The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page.” In other words, they seem to have treated the dossier as evidence, not as a lead. That’s big news.
But that’s not all. Grassley/Graham allege, based on intelligence, that the man behind the anti-Trump dossier was known to be unreliable by the FBI (they eventually severed ties with him) because he was caught lying either to US law enforcement or to British courts, telling each entity different stories about a key fact. Either way, FISA judges who approved and renewed the Page warrants weren’t told about the proven unreliability of the foreign agent whose work product was (apparently) the central basis for said warrants. The FBI might counter that Steele seemed credible at first, then they dumped him when he burned them, but that doesn’t mean their hands are clean, Allahpundit writes:
(a) that doesn’t solve the problem that the original FISA application against Page evidently relied “heavily” on information passed from a not-very-credible foreign agent and (b) that doesn’t explain why the Bureau allegedly failed to tell the FISA Court in later applications to renew their surveillance of Page that Steele’s info maybe hadn’t been so credible…Grassley and Graham make another good point about Steele’s chattering to the press while his investigation was still ongoing: Once bad actors were aware that he was digging for dirt on Trump, they could have sought him out and fed him any amount of BS in hopes of it trickling through to the FBI and deepening the official suspicion surrounding Team Trump. That’s how Clinton cronies — maybe even Sid Blumenthal — got involved in this clusterfark. Because Steele was supposedly willing to accept even unsolicited tips about Trump, the Clinton team may have fed him rumors to help fill a dossier for which their boss was paying.
Two big points there: Even after the FBI recognized Steele was an established liar, his dishonesty was not disclosed to judges deciding whether to keep the warrants active during renewal applications, which were largely predicated on Steele’s credibility. And the topic about which he apparently lied was whether he blabbed to folks in the media about his work, which could have opened up the floodgates for disinformation from shady characters eager to make the anti-Trump case as juicy and brimming with salaciousness as possible. That’s where Blumenthal and company, whom I wrote about here, may have come in. What a mess. Also, speaking of not revealing pertinent information to the courts, it looks like Nunes was technically incorrect that the judges weren’t made aware that the Steele dossier was paid political oppo research. But he was more broadly correct that the judges didn’t have even close to the full picture of who was behind the unverified partisan document upon which they were primarily basing the surveillance of a US citizen — who happened to be a former aide to a major presidential campaign from the out-of-power party.
“As Nunes himself later admitted, the Bureau apparently did disclose in a footnote that the material was paid political research. It just didn’t mention who, precisely, had paid for it,” AP writes. The memo reads, “in footnote 8, the FBI stated that the dossier information was compiled pursuant to the direction of a law firm that had hired an “identified US person” — now known as Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS…the application failed to disclose that the identities of Mr. Simpson’s ultimate clients were the Clinton campaign and the DNC.” So the disclosure came in a footnote and didn’t mention that the parties who paid for the unverified dossier were the Trump campaign’s explicit opposition. Maybe there was no misconduct in any of this, but even as someone who believes neither that suspicion of Carter Page was unreasonable, nor that this is all part of a grand anti-Trump conspiracy (remember, the Trump angle of the Russia probe started earlier, for an unrelated reason), there’s enough in the Grassley/Graham memo to make me uncomfortable with the standards by which Page was surveilled by the US government.