(U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT)
By Robert Schlesinger
The House Intelligence Committee Saturday afternoon released the Democrats' long-awaited response to the Nunes memo, the GOP's bumbling, partisan attempt to undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
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The initial Republican effort had quickly collapsed under the weight of its own hackishness, so the Democrats' memo had the practical effect of beating a corpse that had taken its own life. Nunes' memo was a bad joke from the start, and Schiff's response underscores that by providing fresh detail of the GOP's bad faith; but it also provides new details about the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign, including clues that point toward at least four campaign operatives being under investigation as of September 2016, including retired Gen. Michael Flynn who would go on to become Trump's short-lived national security adviser.
The Schiff memo takes hammer and tong to the central claim of the Nunes product, which is that the process for getting a surveillance warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was abused. Nunes and company attempted to show this by portraying the hapless Carter Page, who was a Trump foreign policy adviser for a time, as an innocent bystander and vilifying retired British spy Christopher Steele. Suffice it to say that the Democrats' memo paints both men in starkly different lights.
Page, the memo states, was "someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government," adding that the Department of Justice had "compelling evidence and probable cause to believe Page was knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the U.S." The warrant request apparently included Page's history of contacts with the Russian government, which had previously targeted him for recruitment as an operative. (This was around the time that Page was portraying himself as "an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.") In its official response to Schiff's memo, the GOP points out that Page's would-be recruiters described him as an "idiot" but that hardly seems exculpatory; the Russians have a long history of looking for useful idiots after all. Even after indicting the Russian spies who had targeted Page (who cooperated in the case) the FBI kept tabs on him, including interviewing him in March 2016, the same month he officially joined Trump's campaign.