House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes' (R-Calif.) campaign bankrolls a conservative media site, The California Republican, that looks like a local news site and is classified on Facebook as a "media/news company," Politico reports. The site purports to serve up "the best of U.S., California, and Central Valley news, sports, and analysis," but mostly puts a partisan spin on articles from conservative and mainstream news sites.
The most recent article was titled "Understanding the process behind #ReleaseTheMemo," with a photo of Nunes, who compiled the partisan memo seeking to discredit the Russia investigation. The news itself isn't necessarily "fake," as The California Republican notes in its rebuttal to the Politico article, but a website paid for by a political campaign wouldn't typically be classified as a "news" site, or at least not a real one.
— The California Republican (@CaRepublicanCom) February 11, 2018
The website was registered in mid-2017 by Fresno consultant Alex Tavalian, who told Politico he has registered several domains for the Nunes campaign but was not involved with The California Republican. Nunes chief of staff Anthony Ratekin responded tartly: "Until Politico retracts its multitude of fake stories on Congressman Nunes, we will not go on the record."
Nunes, a member of President Trump's presidential transition leadership, has sharply politicized the House Intelligence Committee, leading the hometown Fresno Bee to call Nunes "Trump's stooge" out "doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation." Nunes is clearly put off by the bad press, telling Rush Limbaugh last week that "almost every story that runs about me is fake."
Still, his campaign has $3.8 million in cash on hand in a district Trump won by 10 points in 2016, so the negative press doesn't seem to be hurting him much. His main Democratic challenger, Andrew Janz, called The California Republican "typical Devin Nunes," adding: "He's got fake memos, fake websites, and fake news." Peter Weber
Devin Nunes concedes the FBI noted the Trump dossier's partisan origins, undercutting his memo's central claim
One of the central claims in the now-declassified memo compiled for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is that the FBI, in its FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, improperly failed to "disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding [Christopher] Steele's efforts" to uncover Russian ties to President Trump. On Monday, Nunes acknowledged that the FBI did disclose that there was partisan material in the FISA application, in a footnote.
"A footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign," Nunes said in a Fox & Friends interview.
FISA warrants are highly classified, so it's not clear how the FBI footnote deprived the American people of this knowledge, but Nunes conceding that such a footnote exists further undermines his memo. "Notice how 'The FBI LIED about the Steele dossier' has been scaled back to, 'The FBI did not highlight the truth about the Steele Dossier in the part of the application we bothered to read,'" says New York's Jonathan Chait. "So now the main attack on the FBI is about font size."
The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday evening to release the committee Democrats' classified rebuttal to the Nunes memo, and if Trump doesn't block its release, we may get a broader picture of the Page FISA warrant by the end of the week. Peter Weber
President Trump and his supporters, including at Fox News, have seized on the memo from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to argue that the entire federal investigation of the Trump campaign's cooperation with Russian election meddling and presidential obstruction of justice are part of some fake-news "witch hunt." Special Counsel Robert Mueller undoubtedly has more information than the media, especially on Trump's financial ties, The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe told CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday, but "there's a lot of there there that we already know."
The problem, Ioffe said, is that the details are really complicated and a little boring. With the Nunes memo, for example, "people feel like they're tuning in in the middle, and they've missed the first three episodes of the season," she said. "People aren't getting into the weeds of this — it's too much."
Explainers and fact-checks might help, Ioffe said, but "part of the problem is that the media sphere is so bifurcated, and on one side we have a very politically motivated media — Fox, Breitbart, InfoWars, etc. — that are pushing a dishonest narrative, frankly, that is politically motivated. And on the other side, we're trying to be, like, 'Well, we're not on any side, here are the details' — and I think people's eyes glaze over."
— Reliable Sources (@ReliableSources) February 4, 2018
If Ioffe's description made your eyes glaze over, you can watch Donald Trump Jr. claim vindication from the Nunes memo on Fox News with a softball-lobbing Jesse Watters. "There is a little bit of sweet revenge in it for me and certainly, probably, the family," Trump said of the memo.
Don Jr. on the Nunes memo: “There is a little bit of sweet revenge in it for me and certainly, probably, the family.” (via Fox) pic.twitter.com/93Z7XOtFQm
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 4, 2018
Everything Trump said above is wrong or at least highly contested, but at least it's easy to follow his narrative. Peter Weber
A week after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release the classified memo compiled for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and not release the classified rebuttal written for the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Schiff is pushing for a do-over on Monday evening. The four-page Nunes memo purports to show that the FBI improperly omitted the political origins of a dossier used to obtain a FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, while the 10-page Schiff memo reportedly shoots those assertions down. While Democrats are still pushing back against the Nunes memo, Nunes says he has other memos in the works.
Even though Republicans blocked the Schiff memo last week, some of those same Republicans, plus House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have suggested they now favor releasing the memo, so long as sensitive national security information is redacted. If the House Intelligence Committee does approve the memo's release, President Trump has five days to object — he signed off on releasing the Nunes memo unredacted on Friday — and if he does, the full House could overrule him.
Trump has trumpeted the Nunes memo as a document that "totally vindicates" him in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian election-meddling investigation, an assertion dismissed Sunday by Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, as well as almost all intelligence experts. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Trump in a letter that "a refusal to release the Schiff memo ... will confirm the American people's worst fears that the release of Chairman Nunes' memo was only intended to undermine Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation." Peter Weber
On Friday, President Trump will sign off on the release of a four-page memo compiled by Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and committee Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), will likely make it public sometime during the day, White House officials said Thursday. Trump has read the Nunes memo and is expected to clear it for public consumption without any of the redactions requested by the FBI and other intelligence agencies.
The classified memo, released under a never-before-used House rule, apparently purports to show that the FBI did not indicate in a FISA surveillance warrant that one of its sources, Christopher Steele, was working on a dossier funded indirectly by Hillary Clinton. The FBI has expressed "grave concerns" about the fallout and accuracy of the memo, but despite some concerns at the White House, FBI Director Christopher Wray isn't expected to resign over the memo's release. The FBI Agents Association sided with Wray over Trump on Thursday, and former FBI Director James Comey suggested that Nunes and his allies are "weasels and liars."
All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.
— James Comey (@Comey) February 1, 2018
Democrats call the memo a misleading and potentially dangerous attempt to discredit the FBI to protect Trump from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Trump has "told advisers that he thinks the memo is 'gaining traction' and could help him convince the public that the Mueller probe is a witch hunt," The Washington Post reports. A number of people in the White House, meanwhile, fear the memo is a "dud," Axios reports, "and there's internal anxiety about whether it's worth angering the FBI director and intelligence community by releasing this information." Peter Weber
On Monday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee invoked an obscure, never-before-used House rule to approve release of a four-page classified memo compiled by Republican committee staffers for Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a member of President Trump's transition executive committee, over the objections of FBI Director Christopher Wray and Justice Department officials. On Tuesday, Trump told a GOP lawmaker that he will "100 percent" approve the publication of the memo, even though his White House was still reviewing it.
On Wednesday, the FBI issued a statement baldly warning that the bureau has "grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy," and on Wednesday night, the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), accused Nunes of making "material changes" to the memo before handing it to the White House, saying it is "imperative that the committee majority immediately withdraw the document that it sent to the White House."
Trump was set to release the memo as early as Thursday, Axios reports, and "staff had viewed it as virtually a done deal." Trump "has been really, really adamant about wanting this to come out," an administration source close to the situation tells Axios. "He wants it out. Full stop." But there's a wrinkle, Mike Allen reports. "We're hearing rumblings that there could be an 11th-hour extenuating circumstance, perhaps related to Schiff's tweet."
The FBI released its public objection after Wray and Justice Department officials made several private entreaties to the White House. "Trump has told advisers that the memo could benefit him by undercutting the special counsel's investigation and allow him to oust senior Justice Department officials," notably Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, The Washington Post reports. "Allies say he is upset that he can't control 'my guys' at the 'Trump Justice Department' and that no one seems particularly loyal to him." As Axios says: "Another day, another uncharted territory." Peter Weber
On Monday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly told FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that President Trump is inclined to approve the release of a classified memo compiled by Republican staffers for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif)., but it would first be reviewed by the National Security Council and White House counsel's office. The Intelligence Committee then voted along party lines to release the Nunes memo, over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department, and block the release of a Democratic point-by-point rebuttal memo.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that contrary to a report claiming Trump planned to release the Nunes memo after his State of the Union address, "there are no current plans to release the House Intelligence Committee's memo. The president has not seen or been briefed on the memo or reviewed its contents." After the State of the Union address, Trump passed by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and it sounded like his mind is pretty well made up, according to this exchange captured by C-SPAN.
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 31, 2018
"Let's release the memo," Duncan told Trump, who responded, "Oh yeah, don't worry, 100 percent." Trump can release the memo at any time or object to its release within five days.
It isn't clear what Trump or other White House officials know about the memo, which apparently purports to accuse FBI and Justice Department officials of abusing the FISA system to get court permission to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. On Monday, before the Intelligence Committee invoked the obscure rule to declassify the memo, citing "transparency," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) asked Nunes if he or his staffers were in contact with the White House while compiling the memo, The Daily Beast reports. Nunes replied, "I'm not answering." Peter Weber
When The New York Times reported Thursday that two White House officials had shown House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) the classified reports he cited when publicly alleging that President Trump's transition team communications had been incidentally collected during foreign surveillance, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake took special note. Earlier in the week, Lake said, Nunes had "told me that his source for that information was an intelligence official, not a White House staffer. It turns out, he misled me."
Nunes was reportedly fed the classified intelligence by two Trump political appointees: National Security Council senior intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom Trump stopped National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster from firing, and White House national security lawyer Michael Ellis, who used to work for Nunes in the House. This revelation "is a body blow for Nunes, who presented his findings last week as if they were surprising to the White House," Lake writes. "It strains credulity to think that Trump would need Nunes to tell him about intelligence reports discovered by people who work in the White House."
But the real "tragedy" here, Lake says, is that "incidental collection" of U.S. citizens' communications is a real concern and has been since Edward Snowden's leaked NSA documents were revealed. Congress shouldn't vote to reauthorize the surveillance laws in the fall, he argues, but "sadly, the merits of this case are undermined by how the White House and Nunes have made it."
Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who helped reveal the Snowden leaks, disagrees with Lake about the real story. "This is far more than a story of intelligence manipulation for political gain," he writes at The Century Foundation. Cohen-Watnick and Ellis almost certainly showed Nunes classified information he wasn't even supposed to see, suggesting all three "engaged in precisely the behavior that the president describes as the true national security threat posed by the Russia debate." And from all available evidence, they — not intelligence agencies — requested that the names in the top secret intelligence be "unmasked," he said.
The biggest, most serious question, Gellman says, is this: "Why would a White House lawyer and the top White House intelligence adviser be requesting copies of these surveillance reports in the first place? Why would they go on to ask that the names be unmasked? ... Were the president's men using the surveillance assets of the U.S. government to track the FBI investigation from the outside?" You can read Gellman's full argument at The Century Foundation. Peter Weber