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Analysis: IG’s FISA Report Undercuts ‘Schiff Memo,’ Which Defended FBI And Steele Dossier

Chuck Ross on December 10, 2019

  • The Justice Department watchdog’s report undercut key claims in the so-called Schiff Memo, released in February 2018 by Rep. Adam Schiff.
  • The memo downplayed the Steele dossier’s significance to the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page. Schiff released it in response to a memo from Rep. Devin Nunes which criticized the FBI’s handling of the dossier. 
  • The DOJ watchdog found that the FBI made significant errors and omissions in its applications to spy on Page.   

The Justice Department inspector general’s report undercut many of the claims in a memo that Rep. Adam Schiff released in February 2018 defending the FBI and the Steele dossier, according to an analysis by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In the memo, Schiff, a California Democrat, downplayed the FBI’s use of information from former British spy Christopher Steele in applications for surveillance warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Schiff, who now chairs the House Intelligence Committee, also asserted that the FBI did not omit any key details about Steele from the warrant applications and that investigators went to great lengths to verify the dossier.

The Justice Department inspector general’s report contradicted Schiff’s defense. It listed 17 significant omissions and errors that the FBI made in the Carter Page surveillance warrants, including derogatory information about Steele and at least one of his sources.

Schiff’s memo was a response to a report that his counterpart, California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, released on Feb. 2, 2018. The so-called Nunes memo criticized the FBI for relying on the unverified Steele dossier and for failing to disclose evidence of Steele’s political and personal bias against Donald Trump. Schiff defended the FBI and Steele, a former British spy who worked in 2016 for the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

The key claim in the Nunes memo — that the Steele dossier “formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application” — is backed up by the inspector general’s report. The inspector general also faulted the FBI for failing to tell the surveillance court that Steele told a Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, that he was “desperate” in September 2016 to see Donald Trump lose the election.

The Nunes memo does have some flaws. It criticized the FBI for failing to disclose that the DNC and the Clinton campaign funded Steele’s investigation of Trump. But as Democrats have noted, the FBI acknowledged that Steele was working for someone who opposed Trump’s presidential candidacy.

The Schiff Memo

CLAIM: “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.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: “We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed.”

The IG found widespread evidence that the FBI and DOJ omitted information significant to the FISA applications. In all, the report tallied 17 errors and omissions in the FBI’s renewal applications for FISA warrants against Page. Among the key omissions was Steele’s claims to the FBI in October 2016 that a major source for the dossier was a “boaster” and “embellisher.”

CLAIM: “DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA’s probable cause requirement.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: “Although some of the factual misstatements and omissions we found in this review were arguably more significant than others, we believe that all of them taken together resulted in FISA applications that made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case.”

CLAIM: “DOJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveilling Page — but made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: “Further, we found that the first FISA application drew heavily, although not entirely, upon the Steele reporting to support the government’s position that Page was an agent of a foreign power.”

CLAIM: “In subsequent FISA renewals, DOJ provided additional information obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: “[B]ecause the FBI did not have information corroborating the Steele reporting relied upon in the Carter Page FISA application, it was particularly important for the application to articulate to the court the FBI’s assessment of the reliability of the source.”

CLAIM: “DOJ repeatedly informed the Court about Steele’s background, credibility, and potential bias.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: As noted previously, an FBI attorney “did not believe at the time” that Steele’s “desperate” remark “needed to be included in the renewal applications because the comment was only Ohr’s opinion of Steele’s feelings toward Trump.”

CLAIM: “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. The FBI had undertaken a rigorous process to vet the allegations from Steele’s reporting, including with regard to Page.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: “The FBI discovered discrepancies between Steele’s reporting and statements sub-sources made to the FBI, which raised doubts about the reliability of some of Steele’s reports.”

CLAIM: “The Majority 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. Nor do they cite evidence that Steele disclosed to Yahoo! details included in the FISA warrant, since the British Court filings to which they refer do not address what Steele may have said to Yahoo!”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats’ rebuttal to Nunes memo, Feb. 24, 2018.

REPORT: “Drafts of the Carter Page FISA application stated, until October 14, 2016, that Steele was responsible for the leak that led to the September 23 Yahoo News article.”

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