James Comey on Nunes memo: That's it?

Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump, responds to the release of the disputed GOP intelligence memo that alleges FBI abuses of its surveillance authority.

Posted: Feb 4, 2018 11:49 AM
Updated: Feb 4, 2018 11:49 AM

Beyond the controversy over the timing, wisdom and true purpose of its Friday release, the Republican memo alleging anti-Trump corruption at the FBI and Justice Department contains one remarkable detail that undermines its core assertion.

In the first two sentences of the document's final paragraph, its authors note that the application to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page included a reference to another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

It goes on to confirm, in the next sentence, earlier reports that the same "information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok."

That the Papadopoulos "information" also played some role in helping to secure the FBI's desired warrant throws into doubt claims by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and other Republicans that law enforcement officials leaned too heavily on the contents of a dossier funded, indirectly, by Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The timeline here is key.

The FISA application, under protracted scrutiny in the memo, was granted in October 2016. But, as confirmed here by Nunes himself, a potentially related investigation had begun months earlier, in July. And while the memo states that "there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos," it does not articulate the degree to which evidence gleaned from the Papadopoulos probe weighed on the court's decision to grant the Page warrant. Nor does it address whether that intelligence might have corroborated details from the dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

On Thursday afternoon, Republican Matt Gaetz, a vocally pro-Trump Florida congressman who hasn't seen the underlying FISA application and related materials, speculated in an interview with CNN that the "entire universe of Papadopoulos claims" might well have been enough to win over a FISA court judge -- at first.

"It may have been sufficient to start it," he said. "But it certainly would not have been a basis for the intelligence gathering and the continuation of that investigation."

Maybe so, but even then it remains unclear -- going by the memo's contents -- what precisely investigators presented to the court as they successfully sought three renewals of the initial warrant at hearings after the November 2016 election.

The sum result is a document that falls self-evidently short of proving its heavy and heavily-touted thesis. If Nunes and his allies have been successful at anything here, it is in further muddying the public's view of the ongoing special counsel investigation, and, perhaps in the eyes of the White House, carving out a little more space for a move to end it.

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