In the wake of the release Friday of a controversial memo he spearheaded that alleges politically motivated abuse of the nation’s surveillance system by the FBI and the Justice Department, he’s being called a Russian agent and much worse, and there are demands that he be removed from the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.
But Devin Nunes, a Republican congressman from California, insists he’s having fun.
“It’s actually quite enjoyable. Because we have the underlying facts. We’ve been investigating this for a really long time,” he told the Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier in a live interview Friday evening.
“So, you know that you’re over the target when you’re being attacked from all sides.”
Nunes’ four-page report, which was declassified and approved for release by President Trump, confirms – amid protests by Democrats and FBI officials that it is inaccurate and missing crucial context – that the salacious and discredited Democratic Party-funded, opposition-research “dossier” was essential to obtaining permission to spy on a Trump campaign aide.
The memo produced by the House Intelligence Committee’s majority Republicans specifies that then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe – who resigned unexpectedly Monday – testified to the committee that the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court would not have approved surveillance warrants to wiretap former Trump policy adviser Carter Page if not for the dossier.
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In the interview Friday, Nunes charged that many of his Democrat critics are “not honest actors,” that former FBI Director James Comey falsely claimed Republicans funded the dossier and that there is, indeed, evidence of collusion with Russia – not with the Trump campaign, but with Hillary Clinton’s camp and the Democratic National Committee.
And he said there’s more to come, with the committee now investigating the State Department’s role in the abuse of FISA warrants by the Obama administration.
He began by telling Baier it’s “sad that we had to get to this point.”
“I have an obligation to the American people when we see FISA abuse,” he explained. “The American citizens who come before this court have to be protected, and the only place that can protect them is the U.S. Congress when abuses do occur.”
Nunes said he was one of the authors of the memo, along with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and two investigators, and it was vetted by lawyers and the rest of the committee members.
Replying to Baier’s questions, he said there was no coordination with Trump or with his lawyers or with any outside conservative groups in the formulation of the memo.
Nunes said his “bottom line” is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray “have work to do, and they can’t start doing their work to root out the problems if you don’t admit first that you have a problem, and they’ve been unwilling to do that.”
The dossier, commissioned by the political research firm Fusion GPS with funding from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was written by former British spy Christopher Steele. According to the memo, the FBI and Justice Department relied on a Yahoo News story by Michael Isikoff to lend credibility to the dossier. But the source of the Yahoo story was the author of the dossier, Steele, who held personal animus toward Trump, according to the memo, and was “passionate” about ensuring Trump did not become president.
The memo says senior DOJ and FBI officials knew about the political origins of the Steele dossier but didn’t state that fact in the FISA applications.
Steele was suspended and then terminated by the FBI as a source for disclosing to the media his relationship with the bureau. But Steele, the memo states, continued contact with the Justice Department through senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr, who worked closely with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Rosenstein opposed release of the Nunes memo.
The memo further states that during the time Steele was in contact with Ohr, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS “to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump.”
“Ohr later provided the FBI will all of his wife’s opposition research, paid for by the DNS and Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS,” the memo says.
“But Ohr’s relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed” from the FISA court.
Media, left ‘put out total fallacy’
In the interview Friday, Nunes responded to criticism that the memo has material omissions that impact its accuracy.
“We looked specifically at just FISA abuse,” he explained. “We wanted to keep sources and methods out.”
The congressman noted the irony of being accused 10 days ago of preparing to disclose national secrets that would harm the intelligence community and the nation.
“I think everybody has learned that was a total fallacy that was put out by the left and the mainstream media. We didn’t disclose any secrets,” he told Baier.
In keeping with that need for security, he said, he and his colleagues had to reduce the information to a summary “with just the pertinent facts about the FISA abuse.”
He said the only thing he’s familiar with that was left out of the memo was the history of the former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
“I explained why we left this out to the director of the FBI. The director of the FBI is well aware of my concerns about Mr. Page,” Nunes said.
“I don’t believe someone like Mr. Page should be a target of the FBI, especially using salacious information paid for by a political campaign, like this dossier was, about Mr. Page, and then supplemented by a news story that was actually created by Christopher Steele, himself, the author of the dossier.
“This is outrageous that this happened.”
Nunes affirmed to Baier that his committee will vote to release a Democratic memo on the issue, noting it must go through the same vetting process.
“And don’t forget, these are the same Democrats who never wanted to start an investigation. These are the same Democrats who tried to block our subpoenas back in August. They tried to block our ability to go and get the records from Fusion GPS that led to a lot of discoveries in this investigation,” he said.
“So, these are not honest actors. They know they’re not being honest actors,” said Nunes.
“I get tired of playing whack-a-mole every day with Democrats who never wanted to start this investigation in the first place.”
McCabe really said that?
Nunes responded to a claim by Democrats that McCabe never said the dossier was essential to obtaining the FISA warrants.
The memo, he said, contains “a summation of a long interview, and that is definitely what he said, not to mention we have other witnesses who said similar things.”
“So, the fact of the matter is, the main things that were used to go out and get this warrant was the dossier and the story that corroborated the dossier,” Nunes said.
Asked why he would not release the transcript of the McCabe testimony, Nunes said he wouldn’t mind releasing it, but the committee would have to go through a lengthy process.
“They wouldn’t have received a warrant without the dossier,” Nunes said. “The dossier was presented to the court as if it was true.”
He noted the court was not told the Democrats paid for it.
“Just step back for a moment,” he said. “This is not trying to go after some terrorist. The FBI opened a counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016. And then they got a warrant on someone in the Trump campaign, using opposition research paid for by the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. That’s what this is about. It’s wrong, and it should never be done.”
He confirmed a report that the FBI presented the dossier as its lead evidence.
“Yes,” he said, “the largest percentage of the application had to do with the dossier and the news story.”
Nunes was asked to respond to a claim by Democrats, including Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., in an interview Friday with CNN, that the FISA court was told of the political nature of the information.
Swalwell said: “That fact was disclosed to the FISA court that part of the evidence was from a politically motivated source.”
Is that true? Baier asked.
“No,” Nunes replied. “These guys tell so many lies, you can’t keep track of them.
“If the court did know that, the judge would have to be, I think, considered very suspect. But I don’t believe that happened at all.”
‘Comey lied about origin of dossier’
Nunes was asked to respond to former FBI Director James Comey’s tweet Friday.
Comey, who was fired by Trump last May, slammed the memo: “That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”
Nunes replied: “Mr. Comey had a chance in January, February, March, April – I believe all the way to June – to come clean on who paid for the dossier. He was asked about it in January, and he said very clearly that he knew that Republicans had started the dossier, which was a lie.”
When asked further who finished the dossier, Comey said he didn’t know, Nunes pointed out.
“Mr. Comey is welcome to come back and tell us when, exactly, he learned that the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton paid for the dossier,” he said.
“I think the American people understand that the FBI should not go to secret courts, using information that was paid for by the Democrats to open up an investigation to get warrants on people of the other political party,” said Nunes.
“That’s the type of stuff that happens in banana republics.”
Dossier ‘wild stuff’
Nunes said he couldn’t verify any of the contents of the dossier, expect the fact that Russia is a country.
He said he couldn’t imagine, for example, how any FBI agent could think that Carter Page, who was described by a Russian agent in court testimony as “an idiot,” would be offered by the Russians a 19 percent share of the major oil company in Russia.
“This is crazy. And so when somebody first reads that dossier, I would think you would come away from that and think, this is wild stuff.”
He noted the source of the information was the Russians.
“So, there is clear evidence of collusion with the Russians. It just happens to be with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee that the mainstream media fails to investigate,” he said.
Implications for Mueller investigation?
Some critics of Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation contend the memo calls into question the premise of the special counsel’s probe.
In an interview Friday after the release of the memo, Tom Fitton, the president of the government watchdog Judicial Watch, said the revelations in the memo show that Miller’s investigation is unjustified because it is based on the discredited dossier.
Baier asked Nunes if he saw a connection between his memo and the Miller probe.
“I think the mainstream media and the Democrats are tying this to the Mueller investigation, because they’re trying to perpetuate this nonsense of obstruction of justice, because they’ve left the Russia collusion issue,” he said.
“They know there was no collusion,” said Nunes. “I’ve been saying this for a year now, that there was no evidence of collusion.”
Nunes affirmed that the memo completes only the FISA-abuse portion of his committee’s investigation.
The panel now is in the middle of the second phase, which is examining the role of other departments in the investigation of the Trump campaign.
At the moment, he said, they are looking at the State Department’s role.
See the Nunes interview:
Trump: ‘A lot of people should be ashamed’
Asked Friday by reporters whether the revelations in the House Intelligence Committee’s memo would increase the likelihood he would fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, President Trump replied: “You figure that one out.”
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday Trump’s decision to release the memo could result in a “constitutional crisis.”
“He has abdicated his responsibilities as commander in chief to protect the American people by protecting our intelligence sources and the rest,” she said of Trump. “If the president uses this fake, horrible release of distorted intelligence as an excuse to fire Rosenstein or Mueller, it could lead to a constitutional crisis.”
Rep. Gowdy, who helped write the memo, affirmed Friday in a tweet he remains “100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”
“The contents of this memo do not – in any way – discredit his investigation,” the congressman wrote.
But Gowdy also had a message for detractors of the memo, asserting the production and release of the controversial report is consistent with Congress’ responsibility for oversight.
“It is important for the American public to know if the dossier was paid for by another candidate, used in court pleadings, vetted before it was used, vetted after it was used, and whether all relevant facts were shared with the tribunal approving of the FISA application,” tweeted Gowdy, who announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election this fall.
The House Intelligence Committee voted on partisan lines Monday to make the memo public, with Democrats asserting the Republicans’ objective is to protect Trump by diverting attention from the Mueller investigation. Prior to its release Friday, the top Democrat on the House intel panel, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called the Republican report “misleading and inaccurate,” and the FBI issued a statement expressing “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy.