Memo Madness: why Trump wanted the Nunes memo released, why the FBI didn’t, and why it matters.
The Nunes memo is a 4-page document revealing that the FBI may have used biased sources to apply for a warrant during the investigation on Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election. On Feb. 2, the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to make the memo public, against the wishes of the FBI.
Who is this “Nunes” you speak of?
Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He was leading the investigation into Russian interference, but stepped aside after the Office of Congressional Ethics began scrutinizing him for allegedly coordinating with the White House during the Russia investigation.
He was cleared of charges this past December. According to Business Insider, Nunes then started his own investigation into how the Trump-Russia dossier had been used in the Russia investigation. The dossier, written by former British spy Christopher Steele, is a collection of 17 memos describing alleged collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
What’s in the memo?
The Nunes memo accuses the Department of Justice of improperly using the Trump-Russia dossier in getting a warrant to investigate Carter Page, an American citizen.
Christopher Steele wrote the memos in the dossier while being funded by the Democratic National Convention and the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to the memo, they paid him a total of $160,000 for information linking the Trump Administration to Russian interference.
Steele’s reported ideological and financial motivations were not revealed to the court that granted the (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) FISA warrant. The memo says that the application for the warrant referenced a Sept. 23, 2016 Yahoo News article as evidence, despite the article using information that Steele himself leaked.
Who is Carter Page?
Page is an energy consultant who talked about being an “informal adviser” to Putin’s staff in a 2013 letter. He was also a former volunteer adviser to the Trump campaign. To authorize surveilling Page, the Department of Justice and FBI needed to acquire approval from the director or deputy director of the FBI and then either the attorney general, deputy attorney general, or head of the Justice Department’s National Security Department.
Why did Trump want it released?
According to The Hill, Trump told sources close to him that he hoped the memo would discredit the FBI investigation into Russia. Republican congressmen seem to be joining in: On Feb. 2, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) infamously tweeted:
Finally, there needs to be a discussion as to whether the Mueller investigation is truly needed, seeing that the main premise that launched the investigation turned out to not be credible and was both directed and funded by political opponents. #FISAMemo— Rep. Jeff Duncan (@RepJeffDuncan) February 2, 2018
However, this is factually incorrect, as the last page of the memo states, “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok.”
Why didn’t the FBI want it public?
The FBI released a statement that called the memo’s accuracy into question, likely because House Republicans authored it alone, without Democrats. Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff also accused Nunes last Thursday of sending the White House a different version of the memo than had been approved. Additionally, surveillance orders are normally highly classified – releasing information associated with one is a definite break from tradition.
What is #ReleaseTheMemo?
The Twitter hashtag, which called on the government to make the memo public, was started by @underthemoraine, according to Politico.
Now restricted by Twitter for “unusual activity,” @underthemoraine’s tweet was then replied to and retweeted by several accounts, including @KARYN19138585, associated with some Russian bot accounts. The hashtag moved from smaller accounts to larger ones, like @1776Stonewall, who has 50,000 followers, and went viral.
Why does all this matter?
Some conservatives have raised fears of “an anti-Trump, pro-Clinton cell operating at the highest ranks of the FBI,” while some liberals worry that the government might limit the FBI’s semi-autonomy. Regardless of theories, the immediate effect of the Nunes memo and its controversy is an even greater divide between congressional Republicans and Democrats as well as between Trump, the FBI and Department of Justice.