By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

In a much-anticipated release, Democrats last week unveiled their rebuttal to a Republican memo that alleged the Department of Justice and the FBI abused their power in their investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The Democratic memo contends there was no abuse of power by federal law enforcement.

The rebuttal, written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, concluded that the FBI and the DOJ “did not abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”

Democratic Memo Says DOJ Met Standards for FISA Warrant

The Democrats wanted to refute claims by the Republican memo that conclude the DOJ and the FBI relied heavily on a Democratic-funded, anti-Trump dossier to obtain a FISA warrant. The warrant was required for conducting surveillance on Trump advisor Carter Page.

The Democrats’ memo countered that the DOJ met the rigorous standard needed to obtain the FISA warrant. Also, they claimed the Republican memo purposely left out key details. Among those details was the fact that Page had been under FBI surveillance long before the Trump campaign began.

In order for the government to obtain a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on a U.S. citizen, it must meet rigorous conditions. To meet this standard, the government had to convince a FISA judge that Page was a Russian agent and that the Trump campaign or any group of individuals allegedly violated the law.

Memo Explains Why Page Surveillance Needed

The Democratic memo insisted that the DOJ provided the FISA court with four categories to prove why surveillance of Page was necessary:

  • Contemporaneous evidence of Russia’s election interference
  • Russian links and outreach to Trump campaign officials
  • Page’s history with Russian intelligence
  • [redacted] Page’s suspicious activities in 2016, including Moscow
Public Reaction to Democratic Memo

The section of the Democrats’ memo that got the most attention was “Russia’s election interference.” Those stories about Russian election interference often mention the  hacking of the Democratic National Committee or Russian Internet trolling. But that interference says nothing about Page.

The second point makes reference to George Papadapoulos, a foreign policy advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign, having contacts with Russian individuals. Again, there is nothing said about Page.

The third point in the Democrats’ memo refers to Page’s business dealings in Moscow throughout the 2000s. In particular, it discusses a 2013 incident when Russian agents made an unsuccessful attempt to enlist Page. But this was not a major part of the FISA application.

Page’s business deals with Russia were omitted in the Republican memo. They should have been included.

Page’s business dealings in Moscow was not new information when the first warrant was approved in October 2016. So why would the Justice Department need the FISA court to again approve surveillance?

Role of the Steele Dossier

The most controversial aspect of the FISA warrant story centers on a dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence official. The Steele dossier was used to obtain the surveillance warrant and its subsequent renewals.

As Newsweek magazine explained, the dossier is composed of a batch of short reports produced between June and December 2016 by Orbis International. Orbis is a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients.

“Taken together, the series of reports painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates,” said Newsweek.

Republicans allege the dossier was the central piece of evidence. The Democrats insist that the dossier “made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials.”

Page Offered Millions to Help Lift Sanctions against Russia

One of the Democrats’ central points in their memo refers to a key aspect of the dossier — Page’s meeting with Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, Russia’s giant state-owned oil company. Page also met with Igor Divyekin, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in 2016.

Steele reported that Sechin offered Page millions of dollars to help lift U.S. sanctions against Russia. However, congressional investigators and the FBI have never been able to confirm this allegation.

If Steele’s meetings with Sechin and Divyekin actually happened, that would certainly warrant surveillance.

Did FISA Judge Know Who Paid for Steele Dossier?

The most controversial aspect of the opposing memos was the Republicans’ claim that the dossier was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

The Republican memo stated, “Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts.”

The Democrats’ memo states that the “DOJ was transparent with the court about Steele’s sourcing.”

But the FISA application never made any mention that the dossier was paid for by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. The application also does not mention Steele’s strong dislike of Donald Trump.

The other big issue referenced in the Republican memo was FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017. McCabe stated that no surveillance warrant would have been possible without the Steele dossier.

The Democratic memo does not refute McCabe’s testimony. Does that mean McCabe’s assertion is factual?

Without seeing the FISA application, the American public will never fully know the facts about Russian interference. And the only way to know what is in the FISA application is for the government to release its full text and its subsequent renewals.