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It’s a good thing President Trump canceled the Democrats’ overseas excursion this weekend because Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has some work to do here at home. For starters, he needs to take a red pen to his memo that defended the deceptive tactics used by the FBI to obtain a FISA warrant on Trump campaign aide Carter Page days before the 2016 presidential election.
The new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee authored a memo dated January 28, 2018, ironically titled, “Correcting the Record—The Russia Investigation.” But it is Schiff who needs to correct his own record in light of new and damaging information that contradicts several claims he made in that document.
The California congressman might also want to apologize to his predecessor, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who Schiff has spent the better part of a year trying to smear and discredit—even suggesting Nunes should be removed as chair of the committee—for releasing his memo that exposed how the FBI manipulated and misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to spy on the Trump campaign.
Thanks to reporting by The Hill’s John Solomon and others, we now know that the Justice Department and the FBI were in possession of parts of the dossier far earlier than Schiff suggested in his memo and that the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele, also was in contact with top officials months before Schiff claimed he was. Further, these same officials were warned about Steele’s motivations as well as the connection between the wife of a key Justice Department lawyer, who also was employed by the same opposition research firm that had retained Steele.
The new details also bolster Nunes’s contention that a footnote in the FISA application did not fully and accurately inform the court about the political origins of the dossier, even though the department’s hierarchy was well aware of its partisan provenance at the time.
According to his congressional testimony, Bruce Ohr, the former associate deputy Attorney General, confirmed to lawmakers that he met with Steele on July 30, 2016. Also in attendance at the breakfast meeting was Ohr’s wife, Nellie, who had been hired by Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson in late 2015 to assist on his Trump-Russia project.
Fusion GPS was being paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through a politically connected law firm; Simpson hired Steele in June 2016.
Ohr then disclosed that “his first contact with the FBI was on July 31, 2016, when he reached out to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI attorney Lisa Page. He then was referred to the agents working Russia counterintelligence, including Peter Strzok, the now-fired agent who played a central role in starting the Trump collusion probe,” according to Solomon’s reporting. Around that time, he passed along “source information”—the early installments of Steele’s dossier—to those officials. In August, Ohr briefed senior Justice colleagues, including Andrew Weissmann, now a member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
That timeline directly rebuts what Schiff claimed in his memo. First, Schiff stated the FBI team that launched the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign received Steele’s reports in mid-September. Then Schiff claimed that Nunes’s memo “mischaracterizes Bruce Ohr’s role, overstates the significance of his interactions with Steele, and misleads about the timeframe of Ohr’s communication with the FBI.”
“In late November 2016, Ohr informed the FBI of his prior relationship with Steele and information Steele shared with him . . . he also described his wife’s contract work with Fusion GPS,” Schiff continued. “This occurred weeks after the election and more than a month after the Court approved the initial FISA application. By the time Ohr debriefs with the FBI, it had already terminated Steele as a source and was independently corroborating Steele’s reporting about Page’s activities.”
Nearly every single word of that passage is false based on Ohr’s account. Further, most of the content in the dossier about Carter Page has either been debunked or remains uncorroborated.
Schiff also argued that the Justice Department “repeatedly informed the [FISA] Court about Steele’s background, credibility, and potential bias.” This passage refers to the controversial footnote on the FISA application that Schiff and his allies insist shows that ex-FBI Director James Comey, who signed the initial request, did indeed notify the court about Steele’s numerous political ties.
The footnote refers in only the vaguest terms to a “U.S. person, who indicated to Source #1 that a U.S-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”
The U.S. person is Glenn Simpson and “Source #1” is Steele.
But, according to Ohr, he had admonished his colleagues that the dossier was sketchy political dirt produced by a hired gun with a vendetta against Trump. (Not to mention Steele is a British citizen.) He warned them that the dossier might not be reliable and needed to be checked out. Ohr also admitted that Fusion GPS was “conducting the Trump-Russia research project at the behest of Trump’s Democratic rival, the Clinton campaign.”
None of those material details were included in the dossier; despite Schiff’s insistence that the Justice Department was transparent, it was intentionally opaque. Imagine if the footnote had been completely accurate: “A foreign operative was hired by an opposition research firm to investigate Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The opposition research firm is being paid via a politically-connected law firm that has been retained by Candidate #1’s presidential opponent and the rival political party of Candidate #1. The spouse of a top Justice Department official also is working with the opposition research firm on the project to investigate Candidate #1’s ties to Russia.”
There is another part of that footnote that often is overlooked but suggests that the FBI intentionally downplayed the political aspect of Steele’s work. “Notwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research…based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s reporting herein to be credible.” The FBI wanted to assure the court that even the vague references to Steele’s political motives were immaterial because he had been a reliable source in the past.
Another glaringly inaccurate point in Schiff’s memo—that the DOJ properly used news articles in the FISA process, demands correction. The September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff was not included in the application to notify the court about Page’s denials, as Schiff explained. Isikoff’s story was supposed to corroborate the dossier and suggest to the court that Congress was concerned about Page’s Russian ties.
That’s why another footnote (erroneously) concluded that Steele didn’t provide any information to the press; Comey wanted to court to believe that the Yahoo News article, which referred to a “well-placed Western intelligence source,” was planted by someone other than Steele. But it was not: Isikoff has confirmed that he met with Steele and Simpson in Washington before he wrote his story.
There are other questionable portions of Schiff’s memo that might need correction in the near future, not the least of which is his contention that the dossier had nothing to do with the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign. (As the timeline comes together, that look less and less likely.)
For now, Schiff should amend his memo, resubmit it to Congress, then apologize publicly for misleading the American people and for demonizing his colleague. It is true that some facts have come to light in the past year, but Schiff’s overconfidence, fueled by his own political motives, caused him to make those inaccurate statements. Time to correct the record.
But Schiff should keep that red pen handy; he might need again very soon.
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