Perhaps most importantly, the final bullet point in the memo undermines its apparent political aims. The memo is clearly intended to discredit the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and President Trump was eager to declassify it because he hoped it would do so, but the memo acknowledges (while mentioning controversial FBI agent Peter Strzok) that the investigation predates the Page warrant:
The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok.
Trump and his aides have argued that the investigation is a political witch hunt, stemming from the DNC-funded dossier, but this paragraph confirms a New York Times story in late 2017 that reported that the investigation began with Papadopoulos. (Papadopoulos, another former campaign aide, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.)
After days of fevered speculation about the memo, the document that emerges is interesting but vague. It is not the game-changer that some Republicans in the House promised. Importantly, it is also a partisan document, prepared by a close ally of the president’s who served on his transition team and has provided unreliable information in the recent past. The intelligence committee also rejected a request from Democratic members to release a rebuttal memo.
In a lengthy statement, committee Democrats blasted the memo.
“The premise of the Nunes memo is that the FBI and DOJ corruptly sought a FISA warrant on a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, and deliberately misled the court as part of a systematic abuse of the FISA process,” they said. “As the Minority memo makes clear, none of this is true. The FBI had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant.”
Democrats noted that Nunes had not reviewed the underlying intelligence, having delegated the task to staffers. (It was also reviewed by Representative Trey Gowdy, chair of the House Oversight committee.) They also wrote, “In claiming that there is ‘no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos,’ the Majority deliberately misstates the reason why DOJ specifically explained Russia’s role in courting Papadopoulos and the context in which to evaluate Russian approaches to Page.”
There are many questions that remain about the memo, though whether and when the public might get answers is unclear, because much of the information involved remains classified. In addition to the vague point about the dossier’s “essential” role in the warrant application, it’s unclear what other information was in the application, beyond what the memo has specified. There’s also no legal prohibition on using partisan information in such an application, as Orin Kerr explains. And as Jim Sciutto notes, FISA warrants have to be renewed every 90 days, and the FBI couldn’t have simply relied on the dossier for those. It would have to prove it was obtaining valuable intelligence from the wiretap.