Underneath the tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, there are probably reams of classified data pertaining to Russiagate—including sources and methods of the intelligence business—about which we, the public, know very little.
The dueling HPSCI memos from each side of the aisle pertain to just one question in this investigation: Namely, what did the CIA and the FBI know about Carter Page—who served for several months as a foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and who had multiple contacts with high-level Russians—and was it enough to secure a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court warrant to surveil him? What the memo wars reveal is that it’s exceedingly difficult and often controversial, to release even bits and pieces of Top Secret data. That includes intelligence that might relate not just to possible Trump-Russia collusion but also to the broader question of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we might learn about the original question: What did Russia do in 2015–16 to affect the course of the vote?
On the Carter Page issue, the Republicans, led by Representative Devin Nunes, the Trump loyalist who serves as HPSCI’s chairman, claim that their much-touted and now almost universally discredited memo proves that the surveillance of Page was improper (Trump, of course, says the memo vindicates him).
The Democrats, in their still-unreleased rebuttal memo, apparently do not agree. They argue that the surveillance of Page—which began in October 2016 and was subsequently renewed three times, until about July 2017—was based on a voluminous series of briefs presented by the FBI to a FISA court judge, and was not based wholly or even for the most part on the so-called “Steele dossier,” a 35-page compilation of raw intelligence compiled by Christopher Steele, a former MI-6 Russia specialist, on behalf of Fusion GPS, a Democratic-funded opposition research firm in Washington.
Trump, who agreed to release the GOP memo even before he’d read it, announced last week that he would not agree to release the Democrats’ rebuttal memo, prepared by Representative Adam Schiff and other Democratic members of HPSCI, until and unless it was revised. Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Schiff was clearly angry. “The hypocrisy of this just kind of reaches out and grabs you by the throat,” he said. “Here the Republicans write a memo which the FBI quite accurately describes as misleading and omitting material facts, the Department of Justice says it would be extraordinarily reckless to release this, and what does the president do? He says ‘I’m going to release it, before I even read it, 100 percent I’m going to release it.’ This is a president who puts his own personal interest above the national security interest of the country.”