On Friday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The committee vote sends the question to the full House, with a vote expected later this week.
That fast timeline won’t allow for much consideration of the question, however, forcing folks to rely on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s 300-page report detailing his committee’s “impeachment inquiry.” But following last week’ release of the inspector general’s report on FISA abuse that proved nearly every sentence wrong in Schiff’s last high-profile report (his self-titled “Correcting the Record—The Russia Investigation”), Schiff’s work product should be deemed worthless.
Schiff issued his “Correcting the Record” minority report on January 29, 2018, following the release of a memorandum by the then-chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), Devin Nunes. In his 10-page response, Schiff contradicted every point Nunes made. Schiff also contradicted reality.
Last week’s IG report made that clear. But it takes a re-reading of Schiff’s left-celebrated memorandum to grasp the extent of deception Schiff peddled at the time.
IG Vindicated Nunes, Damned Schiff
“FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” Schiff’s memorandum began. There’s a lot of lies to unpack in that one sentence—lies Schiff repeats throughout the memorandum. A montage of Schiff’s “no abuse” claims weaved throughout his memorandum contrast sharply with the IG’s findings.
For instance, Schiff assured Americans the “DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA’s probable cause requirement.” Then Schiff claims, in bold for emphasis, that the “DOJ’s October 21, 2016 FISA application and three subsequent renewals carefully outlined for the Court a multi-pronged rationale for surveilling Page.”
He also claimed “DOJ’s warrant request was based on compelling evidence and probable cause to believe Page was knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the U.S.” “DOJ told the Court the truth,” Schiff promised, and then supported this claim by representing to the public that “current and former senior officials later corroborated” the statements in the FISA applications “in extensive Committee testimony.”
These passages all coalesce to the same false general claim: there was nothing remiss in the FISA applications. The facts prove otherwise. Yes, there was abuse. Yes, the FBI and DOJ omitted material information. Yes, the FBI and DOJ subverted this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign. No, there was no rigor, transparency, or evidentiary basis for the FISA applications, and the applications did not “carefully outline” the basis for surveilling Page. And, no, the DOJ did not tell the court the truth.
The IG made these points clear over the course of 480 pages, capsulized by these two sentences: “We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation.” “We identified at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications.”
In addition to the general platitudes of professionalism Schiff spewed, he added several whoppers, such as: “FISA was not used to spy on Trump or his campaign.” To back up this falsehood, Schiff relied on the ignorance of the general public concerning FISA surveillance warrants, stressing: “As the Trump campaign and Page have acknowledged, Page ended his formal affiliation with the campaign months before DOJ applied for a warrant.”
As a matter of law, Schiff’s statement obfuscates the reality that the FISA warrant authorized the government to obtain prior communications between Page and Trump campaign officials. The report also confirmed that the FBI obtained emails “between Page and members of the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign concerning campaign related matters.”
Everything Schiff Said about Steele Was Also False
Another fabricated theme in Schiff’s “Correcting the Record” memorandum concerned the Steele dossier. The DOJ “made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meeting in Moscow with Russian officials,” Schiff claimed.
But as the IG report made clear, the Steele dossier made the FISA case. Prior to receiving the dossier, the FBI had consulted the various offices charged with determining the propriety of a FISA warrant. At that point, they “determined that more information was needed to support probable cause that Page was an agent of a foreign power.”
Receipt of the Steele dossier changed everything: “Immediately after the Crossfire Hurricane team received Steele’s election reporting,” the IG report explained, the team “reinitiated” its attempt to obtain a FISA surveillance order, and ultimately obtained the first order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) on October 21. Or, as the IG put it, Steele’s election reporting “played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order.”
Schiff’s memorandum continued with several more falsehoods concerning the FISA applications’ discussions of Steele, about Steele’s prior relationship with the FBI, his credibility, and the political motivations of those who hired him. The California congressman then doubled down, heading and underscoring a page-plus discussion of the supposed “DOJ’s Transparency about Christopher Steele:”
Far from ‘omitting’ material facts about Steele, as the Majority claims, DOJ repeatedly informed the Court about Steele’s background, credibility, and potential bias. DOJ explained in detail Steele’s prior relationship with and compensation from the FBI; his credibility, reporting history, and source network; the fact of and reason for his termination as a source in late October 2016; and the likely political motivations of those who hired Steele.
Schiff then elaborated on each of these points. He started by calling the cryptic footnote included in the FISA applications “an extensive explanation to the Court” of “the political context of Steele’s research,” and then claimed the failure to identify the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s funding of the Steele dossier was a purposeful decision by the DOJ not to “unmask” U.S. persons.
Of course, there would be no unmasking in a FISA application filed under seal with the secret court. More significantly, the footnote failed to provide the FISA court a fair understanding of the political bias at play.
The IG faulted the FBI for this omission, just as many on the right have criticized the FBI for intentionally obscuring the DNC and Clinton campaign’s role in funding the Steele dossier. The FBI should have updated the description of the funding source of Steele’s information to “provide greater clarity on the political origins and connections of Steele’s reporting, including that Simpson was hired by someone associated with the Democratic Party and/or the DNC,” the IG report stressed.
Schiff Hides Steele’s Obvious Bias, Unreliability
Further, while Schiff claimed the FBI informed the FISA court about Steele’s potential bias, the IG concluded it was a significant error to omit the fact that Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.”
Schiff then moved on to Steele’s credibility, writing the “DOJ explained the FBI’s reasonable basis for finding Steele credible.” “The applications also reviewed Steele’s multi-year history of credible reporting on Russia and other matters, including information DOJ used in criminal proceedings,” Schiff stressed. He then noted that “Senior FBI and DOJ officials have repeatedly affirmed to the Committee the reliability and credibility of Steele’s reporting, an assessment also reflected in the FBI’s underlying source documents.”
However, the IG report detailed additional information the FBI received that raised “significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.” The IG also faulted the FBI for asserting in the FISA applications that “Steele’s prior reporting had been ‘corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,’” when “his past contributions to the FBI’s criminal program had been ‘minimally corroborated.”
The IG report further noted that Steele’s handling agent noted that “only ‘some’ of Steele’s prior reporting had been corroborated-most of it had not.” Additionally, “Steele’s information was never used in a criminal proceeding.” Accordingly, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FBI “created the inaccurate impression in the applications that at least some of Steele’s past reporting had been deemed sufficiently reliable by prosecutors to use in court, and that more of his information had been corroborated than was actually the case.”
Lies By (Deliberate?) Omission
Next, Schiff focused on Steele’s termination, first claiming “the FBI properly notified the FISC after it terminated Steele as a source for making unauthorized disclosure to the media.” That was half true: The FBI did notify the FISC that it terminated Steele as a source; it’s just that the FBI hadn’t actually terminated him, instead using DOJ attorney Bruce Ohr as a conduit. Or as the IG put it, “the use of Ohr as a conduit between the FBI and Steele created a relationship by proxy” with Steele.
Relatedly, Schiff argued Nunes “cites no evidence that the FBI, prior to filing its initial October 21, 2016 application, actually knew or should have known of any allegedly inappropriate media contacts by Steele.” The IG, though, chastised the FBI for not questioning “Steele about his role in a September 23, 2016 Yahoo News article entitled, U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump advisor and Kremlin.” It was not just the FBI’s uncanny lack of curiosity the IG condemned, but that “the FBI assessed in the Carter Page FISA applications, without any support, that Steele had not ‘directly provided’ that information to Yahoo News.”
It also seems likely that Schiff repeated another falsehood from the FISA applications, in this portion of his memo:
While what the DOJ told the secret FISA court in subsequent renewals is redacted, the sentence indicates it is about “Steele’s reporting about Page’s Moscow meetings.” And the IG report highlighted several problems with the FISA applications’ discussion of this meeting.
First, Steele’s primary sub-source “contradicted key assertions” related to the alleged meeting between Page and the Kremlin-connected Igor Sechin. Second, two of the renewal applications summarized the FBI’s discussion with the sub-source deceptively, stating: “In an effort to further corroborate Steele’s reporting,” the FISA applications stated they met with the primary sub-source and found him to be “truthful and cooperative.” The IG found that including this statement without also noting that the primary sub-source had contradicted key assertions in Steele’s reporting, “left a misimpression that the Primary Sub-source had corroborated the Steele reporting.”
Schiff highlighted the supposed “multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting” in subsequent FISA renewals. By then redacting nearly three full paragraphs, Schiff created the impression that highly classified information in fact backed up Steele’s dossier.
The IG’s report, though, made clear that “the FBI did not have information corroborating the specific allegations against Carter Page in Steele’s reporting when it relied upon his reports in the first FISA application or subsequent renewal applications.” To the contrary, the IG found that the FBI had interviewed Steele and two of his sub-sources that those interviews “revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s description of information in his reports.” For instance, in January 2017, the FBI interviewed Steele’s primary sub-source and determined his statements “were inconsistent with multiple sections of the Steele reports, including some that were relied upon in the FISA applications.”
Deceptive Allusions and Hints
Schiff’s memo also repeated the misrepresentation the DOJ and FBI made in the FISA applications concerning Page’s prior connections with Russian intelligence: “In fact, the FBI interviewed Page in March 2016 about his contact with Russian intelligence, the very month candidate Donald Trump named him a foreign policy advisor,” Schiff wrote. Schiff also dedicated an entire two paragraphs to what the Democrat captioned, “Page’s Connections to Russian Government and Intelligence Officials” and “Page remained on the radar of Russian intelligence and the FBI.”
Those paragraphs portrayed Page’s contacts with Russian intelligence contacts as nefarious and providing an “independent basis for investigating Page.” Schiff also added several redacted passages which he explained the “DOJ described in detail to the Court,” suggesting there was even more damning evidence against Page before the FISA court.
The first of seven “significant inaccuracies and omissions” Horowitz detailed in the IG report destroy Schiff’s portrayal of Page as a compromised compatriot of Russian intelligence agents. The FISA applications “omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page,” Horowitz wrote, “including that Page had been approved as an ‘operational contact’ for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, and that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application.”
The IG called this omission “particularly concerning” because the National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence specifically asked whether Page had a current or prior relationship with the other agency, and the FBI case agent misrepresented Page’s relationship. Further, “Page had disclosed to the other agency contacts that he had with [Russian intelligence agents] and the other agency had positively assessed Page’s candor.
It’s even worse than that: When the other agency reminded the case agent of Page’s past status with that agency, “instead of including this information in the final renewal application, [the attorney] altered an email from the other agency so that the email stated that Page was ‘not a source’ for the other agency, which the FBI affiant relied upon in singing the final renewal application.”
Repeating False Claims from a Debunked ‘Dossier’
Schiff then proceeded to repeat the claims Steele made in his dossier, concerning Page’s supposed July 2016 secret meetings with Sechin and Igor Divyekin, two high-level Kremlin-connected Russians. “Sechin allegedly discussed the prospect of future U.S.-Russia energy cooperation and an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.” “Divyekin allegedly disclosed to Page that the Kremlin possessed compromising information on Clinton (‘Kompromat’)” and noted “the possibility of its being released to [Trump].”
But these claims were not corroborated and the FISA court was never told that Page denied having met “Sechin and Divyekin,” yet a further problem for the “transparent” application.
Another area of deception concerned Schiff’s discussion of former Trump advisor George Papadopoulos. Specifically, Schiff claimed there was “evidence that Russia courted another Trump advisor, Papadopoulos, and that Russian agents previewed their hack and dissemination of stolen emails.” Schiff also spoke of “Papadopoulos’s interaction with Russian agents.”
But, as the IG report made clear, there was no “preview” of hacked or stolen emails. Rather, what a “Friendly Foreign Government,” known from the popular press to be Australia and its former London-based diplomat Alexander Downer, told the FBI is that Papadopoulos had “received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist . . . with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).”
The individual who made that suggestion to Papadopoulos, Joseph Mifsud, wasn’t a Russian agent—or if he was, he was the worst in the combined history of the USSR and Russian Federation, as he allowed the United States access to his two Blackberry smartphones.
Scrutiny of Known Falsehoods Isn’t Scrutiny
Schiff also defended the FISA applications by stressing that senior DOJ and FBI officials appointed by both the Obama and Trump administrations certified the FISA applications, and that four different federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, approved them, which the California democrat claimed “received independent scrutiny” from the judges.
But, as the IG report explains, “the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to inform Department officials of significant information that was available to the team at the time that the FISA applications were drafted and filed. Much of that information was inconsistent with, or undercut the assertions contained in the FISA applications that were used to support probable cause and, in some instances, resulted in inaccurate information being included in the applications.”
That various DOJ officials approved the applications under these circumstances means nothing. The same holds true for the FISA court judges: The four judges authorized the surveillance based on false and misleading evidence and material omissions. That they were all “Republican” judges means nothing
Beyond the false and misleading applications, however, there is a real question concerning how much “independent scrutiny” the applications received from the court given the importance of Steele’s claims concerning Page, and the fact that “Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting.” It is difficult to fathom an application based on evidence from uncorroborated sub-sources withstanding judicial scrutiny once, much less four times.
Wiretaps Useful to the Democratic Party
Schiff’s claim that “the Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable intelligence” and that “the FISA renewals demonstrate that the FBI collected important investigative information and leads by conducting Court-approved surveillance” also crumble when considered in light of both the IG report and the special counsel report. There was no valuable intelligence discussed in either the Robert Mueller special counsel report or the IG report flowing from Page’s surveillance.
Further, when Horowitz testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the IG swatted down that same suggestion when Sen. Richard Blumenthal raised it. “Based on your experience and your report, there’s a reason why warrants are renewed,” Blumenthal began. “They are renewed because they are producing useful information, correct?” “And your review of those warrants would indicate that they were producing useful information,” Blumenthal continued. IG Horowitz responded, “I’m not sure that’s entirely correct.”
Blumenthal pressed the point, saying “they were producing information,” to which IG Horowitz acknowledged “they were producing information,” but that he was “not sure how I would characterize how they were helpful or not.” However, given that nothing has come of that evidence, it would seem the answer is clear.
But one would also think that since nothing came of the two-plus year Russia collusion investigation, even with the appointment of a well-funded special counsel, Democrats would give up on their attempts to undo the 2016 election. The impending impeachment vote proves otherwise.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.