Fact-Checking the Nunes Memo

The memo released Friday by the House Intelligence Committee makes many claims about the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page—and suggests that federal law enforcement authorities are tainted by partisanship.

"Our findings," the Republican members of the committee argue in the memo, "represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes...related to the (surveillance) process."

Here is a fact check of the memo and its claims about the FBI's warrant request under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:

Claim: The FBI should have told a judge about information “favorable” to Page when requesting a warrant, such as the Democratic National Committee's connection to the funding for the Steele Dossier.

Background

The DNC provided funding to continue the investigation run by Fusion GPS into President Donald Trump and his ties to Russia, but the investigation was originally funded by conservative outlet the Washington Free Beacon during the Republican primaries as an attempt to gain some opposition research to undermine Trump.

Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, to investigate connections between Trump and Russia, and Steele included some of the raw intelligence he gathered in the now infamous Steele Dossier that included claims about Page meeting Russian officials in Moscow. Those claims have been subsequently corroborated, and Page has admitted having those meetings.

There is no legal obligation for the FBI to provide evidence that could argue against their own warrant request. Instead several layers of Justice Department officials have to approve the request based on corroborated claims.

Assessment

However the Steele Dossier was funded, it wouldn’t matter because any assertions from the dossier used in the warrant request would have to have been backed up elsewhere, according to Justice Department rules.

Claim: Steele was suspended as an informant to the FBI for leaking to the press

Background

Steele stopped working with the FBI in October, 2016, according to testimony from Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Steele had stopped working with the FBI because he was concerned about leaks to the press, particularly after an October 31 story published by the New York Times claimed that the FBI had not found a link between Russia and the Trump campaign.

“I understand Chris severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn’t know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on,” Simpson testified.

Assessment

The memo’s claims could be true, that Steele was in fact rejected as an informant, but at least one person directly involved with his relationship with the FBI said that it was actually Steele who cut off ties.

Claim: Steele was the source behind the September 23, 2016 Yahoo story that talked about Page’s trip to Moscow, a critical part of the evidence used for a warrant against Page.

Background

Part of the memo’s claims about Steele and his relationship to the FBI stem from assertions that Steele was leaking information about the investigation to the press. Steele did talk to several outlets, including a lengthy interview with Mother Jones. In court filing Fusion GPS acknowledged having spoken to several other outlets, including Yahoo. There’s no proof that Steele was the person who spoke to Yahoo, but it is likely given his discussion with other outlets.

Assessment

We don’t know how critical the Yahoo article was to the warrant request, since the request itself is classified and, unlike the partisan memo, has not been released. Regardless of what was in the Yahoo article Justice Department policy would have required that officials verify the claims before including the information in a FISA warrant request.

Claim: Steele was paid $160,000 by the DNC for the dossier.

Background

Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to continue the investigation started by the Washington Free Beacon. Fusion GPS paid Steele about $168,000 for his work, according to a report by Reuters.

Assessment

Steele wasn’t hired by any political organization, and Simpson testified that the source of funding for the investigation wasn’t a part of his discussion with Steele. But it is true that at least some of the money that Fusion GPS got for its investigation came from the DNC, which would have been passed along to Steele. The implication from the claim in the memo is that Steele was a DNC patsy because he was being paid by them, but that implication is never proven.

Claim: Bias from FBI agent Peter Strzok shaped the warrant application against Page.

Background

FBI agent Pete Strzok got caught trading text messages critical of Donald Trump with fellow FBI official Lisa Page (who is not related to Carter Page). Strzok had been involved with the Russia investigation, but was removed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller before news of the texts became public.

The memo claims that the investigation into Trump was triggered by information from another Trump foreign policy aid, George Papadopoulos, and that since Strzok was involved in opening the case because of that information, the entire case is tainted.

Assessment

The investigation into Page was reportedly started because of comments Papadopoulos made in a London bar. Plus, evidence presented in the application for the Page warrant would have been otherwise validated by several layers of Justice Department officials—meaning that Strzok’s alleged bias would have had to have infected several other people.

Strzok’s criticisms of Trump also do not prove that he would be incapable of running an investigation, and given the other information required to obtain a warrant, would not be the deciding factor in whether Page was surveilled.

In addition, the full body of text exchanges between Strzok and his lover Page reveal that most communications were just idle office chatter, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"Texts critical of Mr. Trump represent a fraction of the roughly 7,000 messages, which stretch across 384 pages and show no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump," the newspaper reported.

Other Claims

Many of the other claims made in the memo can’t be verified because they specifically address what was in the Page surveillance warrant, which remains classified. Several other claims, such as that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told congressional investigators that the warrant would not have been approved without the Steele dossier, also can’t be validated because they refer to closed interviews whose transcripts haven’t been made public.

That’s the basis of the Democrats primary complaint about the memo, that it relies on classified or otherwise non-public information, cherry-picking details that can’t be verified.

The House Intelligence Committee approved the release of the Republican memo, but it blocked the release of the Democrat’s response, which was written by people with access to the underlying warrants and testimony and reportedly would debunk some of the claims in the Republican memo.