Sunday, February 04, 2018

Note on the Nunes memo

Phillip Carter writes about the Nunes memo in Survival at All Costs Slate 02/03/2018. The memo was drafted by a Congressional staff person, Kashyap Patel, and Carter treats him as the author in his article:
Patel attacks the secret surveillance warrant on three basic fronts. First, and most significantly, Patel argues that the FBI’s secret surveillance application omitted “material and relevant information” regarding the credibility of the infamous dossier prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Second, Patel writes that this highly controversial Steele dossier formed “an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.” The implication is that there might not have been any counterintelligence investigation into Trump (and therefore no Mueller inquiry today) had it not been for this fake and politically contrived dossier. However, it’s worth noting that the Nunes/Patel memo undermines this point by stating in its last paragraph that the investigation of Trump’s campaign began before the Steele dossier was prepared, based on information from Papadopoulos and other sources. Third, Patel notes a number of potential conflicts of interest for senior Justice Department officials or lower level investigators and argues these biases tainted the secret surveillance application and should have been disclosed to the court in the warrant application. [my emphasis]
As Carter notes, without seeing the source documents, "it’s hard to judge the truth of the Nunes/Patel memo" in all of its details.

But the point about George Papadopoulos and his loose mouth in May 2016 being a spur to the FBI investigation of Russian connections to the Trump campaign. The New York Times reported in How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt 12/30/2017:
The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

Interviews and previously undisclosed documents show that Mr. Papadopoulos played a critical role in this drama and reveal a Russian operation that was more aggressive and widespread than previously known. They add to an emerging portrait, gradually filled in over the past year in revelations by federal investigators, journalists and lawmakers, of Russians with government contacts trying to establish secret channels at various levels of the Trump campaign.
It has been a Republican talking point that it was the "Steele dossier" that set off the investigation, a piece of oppo research that was partially funded by the Democrats. The idea is that they would try to claim that the entire investigation was the fruit of a poisonous tree, or rather a Democratic Party/"Deep State" conspiracy.

I'll quote again from Marcy Wheeler's (Reasons Why Dems Have Been Fucking Stupid on the Steele Dossier: A Long Essay Emptywheel 10/25/2017):
I have no doubt Russia tampered with the election, and if the full truth comes out I think it will be more damning than people now imagine.

But the Democrats have really really really fucked things up with their failures to maintain better ethical distance between the candidate [Hillary Clinton] and the [Steele] dossier, and between the party and the FBI sharing. They’ve made things worse by waiting so long to reveal this, rather that pitching it as normal sleazy political oppo research a year ago.

The case of Russian preference for Trump is solid. The evidence his top aides were happy to serve as Russian agents is strong.

But rather than let FBI make the case for that, Democrats instead tried to make their own case, and they did in such a way as to make the very solid case against Trump dependent on their defense of the dosser, rather than on better backed claims released since then.

Boy it seems sadly familiar, Democrats committing own goals like this. And all that’s before where the lawfare on this dossier is going to go. [my emphasis]
The Democrats were careless in how they used the Steele memo, so prior to the Times' story on what kicked off the investigation, the Republican claim that the Steele dossier sparked off the FBI investigation had more bite as a propaganda claim.

I'm struck that the Phillip Carter piece does not explain why the release of the Nunes memo may cause actual harm beyond the basic fact that it involved releasing classified information the intelligence community did not want released. Glenn Greenwald is obviously skeptical that such harm is involved in the release:

But Marcy does get specific in a new post, The Harm Releasing the Nunes Memo Caused Emptywheel 02/03/2018, pointing to ways in which the information in it could gives clues about sources and methods applied to the Carter Page investigation.For instance, "The memo tells Carter Page — and any co-conspirators both within the Trump camp and overseas — precisely when the surveillance on Page started and what it consists of." It could also make allied intelligence agencies less likely to share information with the US. Marcy hopes that another implication that bugs the intelligence agencies may actually be beneficial, "I also assume — and hope — that this disclosure ends the 40 year drought on the release of information, which the original drafters of FISA envisioned would be appropriate in certain circumstances. I think this the one salutary benefit of this memo; it makes it more likely that FISA will work the way it is supposed to going forward." She means in particular that it may mean more formal disclosure to individuals who have been targeted by FISA warrants.

Unfortunately, the Democrats and (in this case) John McCain are focusing too much on sputtering outrage that anyone would dare question the total integrity of our holy intelligence services (Matthew Nussbaum, The Nunes memo and Putin’s long game Politico 02/03/2018):
“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Friday. “Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

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