In the last few days I have read many of the news reports about the release of the memo, the memo itself (which you can read here), some excellent analysis including this commentary in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), and this long but detailed background from economist Ross McKitrick. It is particularly worth reading McKitrick's document because it goes back several years and links to earlier events such as the Hillary Clinton email scandal, and it accurately predicts what was in the Nunes document even though it was written before the release of the memo.
The key revelations of the Nunes memo are as follows:
- The FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to carry out surveillance against Carter Page, a Trump campaign advisor, by presenting to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court evidence that was contained in a dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele. It is worth pointing out that FISA warrants usually allow "two hops", meaning that the entire Trump campaign staff including Donald Trump himself would have been subject to surveillance under this warrant.
- In applying for the warrant, and in subsequent renewals, the FBI did not reveal to the court that Christopher Steele was working for FusionGPS, a British research firm that was engaged by the Hillary Clinton campaign to conduct "opposition research" on Trump. The Clinton campaign paid FusionGPS nearly $1m to conduct the research, hiding the payment through a New York law firm called Perkins Coie. The FBI also did not reveal that they had significant doubts about the accuracy of the dossier, with then FBI Director James Comey calling it "salacious and unverified." The FISA warrants also relied on corroborating information from Yahoo News concerning a visit Page made to Russia in July 2016, which the FBI failed to disclose (and actually denied) also came from Christopher Steele.
- FBI officers were clearly engaged in a campaign to discredit president-elect Donald Trump, with text communication between two officers who were involved in the investigation saying, "there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40."
The Democrats and much of the media have criticised the release of the Nunes memo but no one has denied the salient facts, which indicate that the investigation into the collusion of the Trump campaign with the Russians was initiated because of highly doubtful information commissioned by the Clinton campaign, and that the FBI misled the court to obtain warrants. The latter is a very serious matter and McKitrick speculates that it will result in criminal charges, at a minimum against the FBI officers involved (including deputy director Andrew McCabe who resigned suddenly last week), Clinton aides such as Cheryl Mill and Huma Abedin, and possibly Hillary Clinton herself. He goes so far as to point out that presidential immunity from prosecution does not apply after a president leaves office, implying that if Obama knew about all of this, then he may face prosecution.
Finally, it is worth looking back on how Donald Trump has handled these matters. He received a great deal of criticism for sacking James Comey last year and was painted as a paranoid idiot for claiming that the Obama administration was carrying out surveillance against his staff at Trump Tower. We know he was considering sacking special investigator Robert Muller but decided not to. With what we now know, it looks like he was justified in all these actions. But other than that, he has remained largely aloof from the Russian investigation.
I think Trump has played a blinder. He has given the FBI, the special investigator, and Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, all the rope they wanted. It is now tightening around their own necks.