Rep. Devin Nunes released a groundbreaking document in early 2018 that shook up Washington and proved to be the beginning of the end of the Trump-Russia conspiracy industry.
His memo, released while he chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, contained two stunning disclosures that are now back in the news.
First, it confirmed that the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign funded a Kremlin-sourced dossier in 2016 that accused Donald Trump and his allies of various election conspiracy crimes.
Second, the Democratic-financed dossier was used by the FBI to justify four wiretaps lasting one year on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. The FBI warrant applications contained inaccuracies. That news injected real evidence of partisanship as a motive for the FBI’s probe, called Crossfire Hurricane.
Two recent events:
• At a hearing last week before the House intelligence committee, Mr. Nunes lashed into FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. He criticized Mr. Wray for the bureau’s efforts at undercutting the 2018 memo by issuing a statement saying it had “material omissions.” This, in effect, fed talking points to Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, who now chairs the committee.
• The Washington Post reported on April 16 that Kash Patel, then a close Nunes aide who spearheaded a counter-dossier probe and principally wrote the memo, is under investigation on suspicion of press leaks. An intelligence agency complained about him. Mr. Patel clashed with intelligence leaders repeatedly in his attempt to force more Trump-Russia probe documents into the sunlight.
The 2018 six-page memo, including a two-page letter from the White House counsel disclosing that President Trump had declassified Mr. Patel’s work, instantly elevated Mr. Nunes in the eyes of conservatives. It was the first concrete proof of FBI misconduct toward Mr. Trump.
Mr. Patel also implemented a strategy of subpoenaing bank records to prove that the Democratic National Committee funded the dossier via its law firm. Fusion GPS, the Democrats’ opposition researcher, handled dossier author Christopher Steele, a former MI6 spy. Fusion set up clandestine Steele press briefings in Washington and arranged for his claims to reach the FBI.
Some liberal media figures had assured the public that the FBI would never use Democratic partisan research to gain a court wiretap warrant.
The Nunes memo destroyed that myth and noted that agents relied on the dossier while misleading federal judges who make up the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Said the Nunes memo: “Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.”
The memo also said the FBI’s attempts to corroborate Mr. Steele’s allegations were only in its “infancy” when the first wiretap started.
Yet the dossier was the “essential” piece of evidence. Without it, there would have been no electronic surveillance of Carter Page, the Nunes memo said.
In December 2019, the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report on FISA abuses that confirmed the Nunes findings and showed FBI conduct was even worse than the congressman described.
The report listed 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the four warrant applications.
The FBI concealed from judges the fact that Mr. Page had been an official CIA asset. The FBI also ignored information that cast doubt on Mr. Steele’s main Russian source. It did not include Mr. Page’s denials recorded by an FBI informant.
Republican senators later obtained declassified report segments. They showed that intelligence agencies told the FBI in January 2017 that some key Steele claims were Russian disinformation. Agents continued to use the dossier anyway.
All this led up to last week’s House intelligence committee hearing, in which Mr. Nunes confronted Mr. Wray directly and accused his bureau of lying and obstructing the congressman’s probe.
“When our memo was released, the FBI, under your leadership, issued a statement casting doubt on its accuracy due to ‘material omissions,’” said Mr. Nunes, noting that it was the inspector general who found serious omissions, not by the congressman, but by the FBI.
“Republicans on this committee and in the Senate had actually brought this to your attention shortly after you were sworn in [August 2017],” Mr. Nunes said. “Instead of quickly acknowledging and fixing the mistakes, the FBI has resorted to stonewalling obstruction, half-truths, and in most cases, outright lies during our ongoing investigation.”
He continued: “Despite the FBI’s obstruction, the truth got out anyway, which did far more damage to the FBI’s standing than if the FBI had simply just owned up to the problems when they first learned them.
“The government used the Department of Justice and the FBI as weapons against the opposition party, a hallmark of banana republics,” he said.
Mr. Nunes said he would submit questions in writing to Mr. Wray, who did not directly respond to the verbal indictment.
“The FBI’s reputation is something that matters deeply to me just as it does to every member of this committee,” he said. “I have been committed since I started this job to making sure that the FBI does the right thing in the right way, and I have tried to instill that message through everything we do.
“And, the reputation that I see and hear of our people and the great work they’re doing out in those communities differs greatly, with all due respect, to the assessment that we just heard.
And, I would add to that, that over the last couple of years, the number of Americans applying to be special agents at the FBI has tripled what it was in the years before I started in the job and it’s as high as it’s been in over a decade.”
In the end, special counsel Robert Mueller said in March 2019 that his investigation did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The dossier fell out of favor with Democrats and the news media. Mr. Steele had written of an “extensive conspiracy” and “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump team and Kremlin.
Concerning Mr. Patel, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius quoted two sources in an April 16 column who said the Biden Justice Department had started a probe into the former Nunes aide based on a complaint from an intelligence agency. The column provided no other details.
Mr. Patel, who served as chief deputy to the acting director of national intelligence, appeared Monday on “JusttheNews AM.” He called Mr. Ignatius an “old white man.”
He said: “I think it’s the height of hypocrisy for the individual [Mr. Ignatius] that started the ‘Russiagate’ hoax by publishing classified information himself regarding Michael Flynn in December 2016, to accuse the individual [Mr. Patel] who led the investigation, who exposed the Democratic fraud, FISA fraud, and FBI fraud that occurred, of himself exposing classified information, I think that’s hilariously hypocritical and it just shows the irony of this old white man coming after the first minority to hold the positions of … principal [deputy] DNI and senior director for counterterrorism. That’s all I have to say about him while my lawyer and I review the matter for next steps.”
Mr. Patel, an Indian American, held a number of posts after leaving the House committee. He worked with the White House National Security Council staff as counterterrorism director, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and as chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense.
Mr. Patel was referring to a December 2016 column by Mr. Ignatius that disclosed a U.S. government-intercepted conversation between incoming Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador.
After the column was published, Trump aides denied that Mr. Flynn had discussed Obama administration-imposed sanctions on Russia. That prompted the FBI to interview Mr. Flynn because the call transcript conflicted with the public statements.
The FBI cleared Mr. Flynn of improper Russian contacts, but the interview resulted in a perjury charge and a guilty plea during the Mueller investigation. Mr. Trump eventually pardoned Mr. Flynn. New FBI documents show that agents privately did not believe he lied.
At the White House National Security Council, Mr. Patel got drawn into the 2019-2020 Trump impeachment over an allegation that he trespassed out of his lane and into Ukraine policymaking.
Mr. Patel told CBS News that he never discussed Ukraine with Mr. Trump, whose phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his desire for an investigation of Joseph R. Biden led to impeachment.
Mr. Patel said the final impeachment report had no evidence that he had involved himself in Ukrainian policy.
“If they had any actual information as to the substance of those calls, then they would’ve put it in there. But they didn’t,” Mr. Patel said. “This is a standard operating procedure to castigate someone’s name and reputation, especially when they work in the White House.”
Mr. Patel appeared, along with a number of other prominent conservatives, in the documentary “The Plot Against the President,” based on the bestselling book by journalist Lee Smith.
He talked about the early days of assessing the dossier in 2017 and concluding that its series of claims were false. Then the task was determining how the FBI used it.
Mr. Patel has filed three defamation lawsuits against news media.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com.
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