House Republicans Release Video Explaining FISA Memo

Lawmakers criticize FBI for using unverified dossier funded by Clinton campaign to obtain warrant

February 9, 2018

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) on Thursday released a video in which Republican lawmakers chided the FBI and Justice Department for using an unverified dossier to help obtain a warrant to spy on former Donald Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) appeared along with committee member Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) and others to explain the GOP-written memo released last Friday, which alleges Justice Department abuses in its surveillance of Page.

In the video, the GOP lawmakers argued that Americans should be protected from being surveilled unjustly. They contended that the FBI used a dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele—which contains unverified claims about Trump and his relationship with Russia—to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, but without revealing to the FISA court that Steele was paid over $160,000 by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign.

FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which created a secret surveillance court used in foreign spying probes.

"You have a right to know what happened with this FISA process and whether reforms are warranted," Gowdy said at the start of the video.

"For reasons the Democrats never can explain, the FISA application went to great lengths to avoid identifying a material point about the financial source behind the dossier," he added.

In January 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey called the dossier "salacious and unverified."

McCarthy said in a statement that the House Intelligence Committee should protect against politicized legal action.

"Most notably, it was omitted that the author of an unverified political document disclosed to the court was an ardent and paid-political opponent of President Trump," McCarthy said. "Protecting against this type of politicization of the intelligence process is a primary reason why the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives was created."

The video noted that Steele told a Justice Department official in September 2016 that he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected."

Gowdy also argued that Steele was not a reliable source and therefore his dossier should not have been used to obtain the FISA warrant.

"The Democrats claim Chris Steele was a reliable source, but he wound up being dismissed as a source by the FBI for two different reasons," Gowdy said. "And in addition to that, Steele's reliability isn't really the seminal issue. He didn't know of the facts firsthand. He repeated what sources in Russia were telling him. So for that matter, a parrot could have been the source."

Steele created the dossier on behalf of Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that itself had been commissioned by Clinton's campaign and the DNC.

The Washington Free Beacon employed Fusion GPS for political opposition research during the presidential primary campaign but had no involvement in the Steele dossier. For more information, see here.

Democrats have lambasted the Republicans' FISA memo and staunchly defended the FBI's use of FISA warrants. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) accused the memo of "cherry-picking" and said it was dangerous for Congress' relationship with the intelligence community.

"This puts us in extremely dangerous territory," Merkley said. "It upends the relationship between the intelligence community and Congress, threatening the ability for different branches of government to work together to protect the American people's safety."

Democrats also accused the memo of being shoddily written. Rep. Mike Quigley (D., Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, likened it to a student's report after not reading the book, and he said the Democrats' counter-memo was needed to "correct the facts."

Gowdy argued that Republicans on the committee have favored transparency. They voted to release the Democrats' memo even after the Democrats voted against allowing Republicans to release their memo.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R., Texas) pointed out in the video that the FBI had four opportunities to disclose Clinton's funding of the Steele dossier but did not do so.

"The DOJ and FBI had four opportunities to disclose these facts in the original FISA application in each of three subsequent renewal applications over a nearly year-long period—but never did," Ratcliffe said.