President Donald Trump lobbed verbal barbs at his critics in Congress on Saturday night, blasting a rebuttal intelligence memo issued by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as Democrats said the new details showed the FBI had done nothing wrong in its probe of Russian influence that had tentacles reaching to people in Mr. Trump's orbit.
"FBI and DOJ officials did not “abuse” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” the Democratic memo states.
Republicans had the exact opposite view, both parties as both sides made claims and counter charges about what was in - or not in the memo - on the Russia probe.
Let's look a little further into the details.
1. Trump says Democratic memo proves no collusion. On Twitter, and in a telephone call to Fox News on Saturday evening, it didn't take long for the President to make clear a familiar refrain, that the Democratic intelligence review had nothing in it to worry him, as he again claimed that the FBI had engaged in biased actions in the investigation related to the Russia probe. "The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. "Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!" But on the actions of the FBI, the Democratic details seemed to paint a different picture from the President's declaration.
2. First, take a few minutes to read the Democratic memo. Don't take anyone's word for what's in the 10 page rebuttal from the House Intelligence Committee minority members, go ahead and read it yourself. The bottom line from the Democrats was simple, the FBI did nothing wrong, and the Republicans had put out a memo that didn't tell the full story. "After reviewing the memorandum drafted by committee Republicans that was made public at the beginning of this month, the FBI rightly expressed its ‘grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy,'" Democrats stated, as they countered that the FBI did nothing wrong in the investigation of former Trump Campaign adviser Carter Page. It was a much different review than what came from the GOP side. Also, here is a link to the GOP response.
3. Democrats reinforce the time line of the GOP memo. When it comes to actions of former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele - the author of the much ballyhooed Steele Dossier about Russian links to President Trump, it remains clear that whatever information Steele provided to the FBI, that "dossier" material was not what started the investigation by the FBI. As the Republican memo stated - and the Democratic memo repeats - the overall Russia counterintelligence investigation began at the end of July 2016 following information obtained from Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, with a FISA warrant being sought against one time adviser Carter Page only after he left the Trump Campaign.
4. What did the FBI tell the FISA court about Christopher Steele? In the GOP memo, Republicans said the FBI never revealed that Steele was being paid for opposition research by a law firm with direct ties to the Democratic National Committee and therefore basically by Hillary Clinton's campaign - making the charge that political machinations had caused the investigation of Carter Page. "Mr. Schiff’s memo does not disprove that politically funded documents were used as evidence in court," said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). But the Democratic memo does give much more context about what the court was told with regards to Steele, saying that his research had been 'commissioned by "political actors" to 'obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump's ties to Russia.'"
5. There was much more going on than the FISA on Carter Page. While no one knows for sure what was redacted in this Democratic memo, it's obvious from the blacked out portions in relation to Carter Page that Page had long been on the radar of U.S. Intelligence, well before President Trump's campaign began in 2015. Democrats say that the FISA surveillance of Page - who had already left the Trump Campaign when it was approved in October of 2016 - netted other important intelligence for the FBI. "The Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable intelligence," the Democratic memo states. What that was, isn't clear - but the FISA surveillance was approved three additional times by the FISA court.
6. An active Russia probe vs the Clinton emails. When you think back about what the FBI was doing in the headlines in the weeks before November of 2016, most of the attention was on the Hillary Clinton email investigation, as then FBI Director James Comey dramatically re-opened the Clinton probe in late October, roiling the campaign. But as pieces of the Mueller investigation and this Democratic memo demonstrate, the FBI at the same time was actively investigating seemingly as many as four people with ties to the Trump Campaign - before the election. As I look back on my stories from the last six weeks of the campaign, Russia was not what the FBI was publicly focused upon. It raises some interesting questions.
7. No matter the dueling memos, the probe continues. While issuing public memos from each party on the House Intelligence Committee is not exactly the way that you probably want to conduct a Congressional investigation, it's obvious that much more consequential work on Russian interference into the 2016 election continues on both the Senate Intelligence Committee, and in the Special Counsel's office. And there is still a review of how the matter was run by the FBI, undertaken by the Inspector General of the Justice Department. Publicly, we know of three guilty pleas as part of plea bargains involving members of the Trump Campaign. In federal court here in D.C., there are a number of sealed criminal cases which were filed about the same time as other actions by the Special Counsel. Are those cases related to this investigation? That's not clear. But the story isn't done.