Feb 2, 2018

Between the lines of the Nunes memo

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes. Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The memo by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes is out, but there are still some critical unanswered questions — like whether there was any actual wrong information in the application to begin electronic surveillance on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Here's what to keep in mind as you read the memo and the reactions to it.

  • The memo doesn't say there was false material in the application to begin surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. At most, it says the attempts to verify the material in the dossier by Christopher Steele were in their "infancy." The main point of the memo is that some of the material in the FISA application was produced by people with anti-Trump agendas.
  • But in federal law enforcement, you talk to people with ulterior motives. The idea that you could only put material in a FISA application that is guaranteed not to be tainted by anybody with possibly questionable motives is not an idea that has any currency in law enforcement circles.
  • The main charges of anti-Trump bias: The memo states that Steele said he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president," and reports that the wife of then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr worked on opposition research against Trump for Fusion GPS, the research firm that assembled the dossier.
  • The fallout of the memo: the fact that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is named in it is a big deal. Couple that with President Trump's comments about whether the memo made him more likely to fire Rosenstein: "You figure that one out."
  • It's a terrible day for Rosenstein. Many in the conservative movement — including the president — want his head. As I reported this morning, the Tea Party Patriots are already launching an ad campaign calling on him to "do his job, or resign."
  • Part of the reason this memo is generating such a broad variety of reaction is that the vast majority of Americans don't know anything about FISA or the authorities the intelligence community have to surveil Americans. Intel geeks are writing this off as underwhelming, but Americans who are uninitiated to FISA may find this troubling.
  • What the memo doesn't say (but we need to know): Whether there was any incorrect information in the FISA affidavit to justify surveillance of Carter Page, and did the FBI know it to be incorrect? Or was the information used to surveil Page all accurate even if it came from sources with anti-Trump motives?

The bottom line: What I want to know most is whether the information used to get the FISA warrant was verified before the U.S. government began surveillance of Carter Page.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,383,582 — Total deaths: 344,077 — Total recoveries — 2,158,031Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,640,972 — Total deaths: 97,679 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,195Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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