Even as the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues to investigate Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, a four-page memo penned by a Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes has targetted the premier agency for allegedly witch-hunting the Republicans. Here is a rundown of the the controversy around document, dubbed "Nunes memo" — the release of which has sent shock waves across Washington DC.
Who is Devin Nunes?
The 44-year-old lawmaker from California, who is in his eighth term in Congress, served on Donald Trump's presidential transition team. Several critics have blasted Nunes, a staunch supporter who defends the president at all costs, as 'Trump's lapdog'. "Nunes is an agent of the White House instead of an independent investigator," House Democrat Mike Quigley, a member of the intelligence panel, told CNN.
What does the memo contain?
Trump on Friday allowed the memo to be made public, days after the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Nunes, voted to release it. The document was distilled from a much larger volume of documents used by the FBI to get a so-called FISA national security warrant to spy on Trump campaign official Carter Page, who was suspected of espionage.
Page, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, was also suspected to have flown to Moscow and met with Russian officials. This triggered the suspicion of the FBI and the Department of Justice, which sought the FISA warrant to track the movements of Page. The request was granted, according to The Washington Post.
The memo alleges that to obtain the warrant, the FBI submitted as evidence the contentious and unproven "Russia dossier." According to The Week, the memo insinuates that the top members of the FBI and the Department of Justice were keeping Carter under illegal surveillance.
The dossier includes information on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, which was compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. Steele was partially financed in part by Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, which the memo stated is a major problem.
According to The Guardian, the memo noted that the FBI did not include in its warrant application that the dossier was partly funded by Democrats. Reports suggest that the memo implies that the FBI chose to ignore that some "political actors" (a reference to the Democrats) were involved in funding the dossier.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the document "raises serious concerns about the integrity of decisions made at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI."
The memo has provided the Republicans with a new weapon to hit back at the Democrats. The memo is claimed to be providing evidence that the Justice Department, allegedly full of pro-Clinton officials, actively sought to undermine Trump. Before it was released on Friday, Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, supported the memo's release as an act of transparency.
Worries over discrepancies in memo
The Democrats and a few Republican lawmakers claim the document has glaring holes. The FBI itself said it had "grave concerns" over its accuracy. Some have even dismissed its release as little more than a stunt, and another thinly veiled effort to undermine the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia. According to a Vox report, the discrepancy in the report can lead to more leaks which can discredit the memo.
The FBI had previously issued an extraordinary public warning against the memo's release, saying it contained "material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
Meanwhile, Trump's hand-picked FBI Director Christopher Wray shrugged off attacks on the FBI's independence and pledged to defend his agents in an internal letter sent to staff on Friday. "Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure," Wray wrote. "Let me be clear: I stand fully committed to our mission... I stand with you."
Will it impact Mueller's investigation?
The Justice Department and the FBI have actively lobbied against the release of Nunes memo, which has the potential to taint special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.
There are divided opinions about the impact of the memo on the ongoing investigation.
Security expert Barbara McQuade believed that the memo will not impact the probe as it relates to only one person — Page — and that the investigation into the Russian interference had already begun in July 2016.
In similar vein, The Guardian reported that Trump will continue to face many other hurdles despite the revelations in the Nunes memo. The wide angle of Mueller's probe includes the obstruction of justice, collusion with Russia, money laundering and fraud.
Ed Rogers, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush Sr era, wrote in The Washington Post that the memo has challenged the entire premise of Mueller's investigation.
"The Nunes memo challenges the entire premise of the special counsel’s investigation — especially if there is now a serious inquiry about whether the president obstructed justice of an investigation that was inappropriately initiated by the government in the first place," he wrote.
What is in it for Trump?
Critics say it contains material that could give the president cover to fire officials such as Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein or even special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The memo came as a relief to the embattled Trump, who claimed vindication in the ongoing probe over alleged Russian interference in US elections.
In a series of tweets, Trump said:
This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2018
Great jobs numbers and finally, after many years, rising wages- and nobody even talks about them. Only Russia, Russia, Russia, despite the fact that, after a year of looking, there is No Collusion! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2018
“The four page memo released Friday reports the disturbing fact about how the FBI and FISA appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath....The FBI failed to inform the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had funded the dossier....the FBI became....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2018
With inputs from AFP
Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 13:39 PM