Battle Over FISA Abuse Memo Heats Up
The Justice Department is making a last-ditch effort to prevent the release of a controversial memo alleging surveillance abuse involving the infamous Steele dossier.
In a letter sent Wednesday to California Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), Justice Department official Stephen Boyd argued that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” for the committee to release the memo without first consulting the Justice Department and FBI.
Boyd asserted that the “unprecedented” move could create national security risks and damage future investigations.
Nunes and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, another Republican on the committee, put together the four-page classified memo based on documents provided by the Justice Department and FBI.
Because of its sensitivity, lawmakers who have seen the document have refused to discuss its contents. But it is believed to allege that U.S. investigators improperly handled the Steele dossier and improperly obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Republicans on the Intelligence Committee voted unanimously last week to allow other members of Congress to view the classified memo. Shortly after, a group of Republican lawmakers who viewed the document put out statements calling it “alarming” and “disturbing.”
On Friday, 65 Republicans sent a letter to Nunes asking him to make the memo public. That campaign intensified over the weekend, and the White House signaled that it would have no objection to its disclosure.
But as the memo’s release became more likely, Democrats upped their attack. California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, claimed that the memo was a set of Republican-crafted talking points aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation. He announced a plan on Wednesday to release a memo crafted by Democrats in the event of the release of the GOP document.
In his letter, DOJ’s Boyd said that the agency is “unaware” of any abuses of the FISA system.
“As you know, we have provided HPSCI with more than 1,000 pages of classified documents relating to the FBI’s relationship, if any, with a source and its reliance, if any, on information provided by that source.”
Boyd was likely referring to Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier while working for an opposition firm that was on the payroll of the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Nunes subpoenaed the DOJ and FBI in August for documents related to the dossier and Steele. The agencies reportedly used the dossier in a FISA application in Sept. 2016. Republicans on the committee have questioned how central the dossier was to the FISA application and whether U.S. officials vetted the report before using it to obtain the surveillance warrant.
The most serious allegations in the dossier — that the Trump campaign cooperated with the Kremlin to sway the election and that Trump was being blackmailed by Russians — remain unverified. During a hearing in June before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey called the dossier “salacious and unverified.”
A spokesman for Nunes hit back at the DOJ letter on Wednesday night.
“Agencies that are under investigation by congressional committees don’t typically get access to the committees’ investigative documents about them, and it’s no surprise these agencies don’t want the abuses we’ve found to be made public,” Jack Langer said in a statement.
Boyd asked that Nunes to provide a copy of the memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray or, alternatively, to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.