House Intelligence Committee approves release of Democratic Memo rebutting Nunes Memo; NY Times asks FISA Court for Carter Page warrant info


The House Intelligence Committee on Monday voted unanimously to release a memo drafted by Democrats to rebut a GOP-crafted document alleging surveillance abuses at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Intelligence Committee Republicans last week voted down a measure that would have made the Democratic memo public at the same time as the Nunes memo. House Intel votes to release Dem countermemo:

The 10-page classified document now goes to President Trump, who has five days to block its release if he so chooses. It remains an open question whether he will do so.

Don’t hold your breath.

The Democratic memo is expected to lay out a point-by-point rebuttal of the assertions in the Nunes memo and make the case that the FBI had good reason to spy on Page as part of the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign.

A decision by the Trump White House to block its publication would almost certainly set off a firestorm of accusations from Democrats that he is attempting to obstruct justice.

The White House has signaled that it is open to allowing the release of the Democratic memo, but included a caveat for national security protections.

There were no redactions made by the White House to the Nunes Memo for national security reasons.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the panel, said on Monday that the FBI and DOJ already have a copy of the document, but that they had not yet provided any feedback. He expressed concerns that the White House would attempt to redact the document to protect itself.

“We want to make sure the White House does not redact our memo for political purposes and obviously that’s a deep concern,” Schiff told reporters after the vote.

Committee Republicans who have seen the Democratic memo have previously said it is highly detailed and would need to be heavily redacted before release. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has also alluded to the need to protect intelligence sources and methods in offering tempered support for its release.

If Trump does block the document’s release, the full House can hold a vote to override him and force the publication of the memo.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

In a related action, the New York Times Asks Court to Unseal Documents on Surveillance of Carter Page at the center of the Nunes Memo:

The New York Times is asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal secret documents related to the wiretapping of Carter Page, the onetime Trump campaign adviser at the center of a disputed memo written by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee.

The motion is unusual. No such wiretapping application materials apparently have become public since Congress first enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. That law regulates electronic spying on domestic soil — the interception of phone calls and emails — undertaken in the name of monitoring suspected spies and terrorists, as opposed to wiretapping for investigating ordinary criminal suspects.

Normally, even the existence of such material is a closely guarded secret. While applications for criminal wiretaps often eventually become public, the government has refused to disclose the contents of applications for intelligence wiretaps — even to defendants who are later prosecuted on the basis of information derived from them.

But President Trump lowered the shield of secrecy surrounding such materials on Friday by declassifying the Republican memo about Mr. Page, after finding that the public interest in disclosing its contents outweighed any need to protect the information. Because Mr. Trump did so, the Times argues, there is no longer a justification “for the Page warrant orders and application materials to be withheld in their entirety,” and “disclosure would serve the public interest.”

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[T]he credibility of the accusations in the Nunes memo are themselves the subject of intense dispute. Democrats who have seen the underlying materials say the Republican memo contains serious material inaccuracies and omissions, such as failing to include unrelated evidence about Mr. Page and Russia that the court also saw and mischaracterizing other facts.

For example, Democrats say that the FISA judges were, in fact, told that the financing of Mr. Steele’s research was politically motivated, even if the funders were not identified by name.

They have produced their own, still-classified rebuttal memo, but the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee voted against making it public. Democrats are still pushing to make its contents public, but it is not clear whether the Republican-controlled Congress and Mr. Trump will permit that to happen.

“Given the overwhelming public interest in assessing the accuracy of the Nunes memorandum and knowing the actual basis for the Page surveillance orders,” the Times’s motion says, the court should direct the publication of its orders and the application materials “with only such limited redactions as may be essential to preserve information that remains properly classified notwithstanding the declassification and dissemination of the Nunes memorandum.”

The Times sent the motion and related documents to the Justice Department on Monday to commence the action. It also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Justice Department on Friday asking the executive branch to disclose, following a declassification review, the same materials about the wiretapping of Mr. Page, who had left the Trump campaign a month before the government applied to wiretap him.

That request is not yet ripe for litigation. Separately, a USA Today reporter and the James Madison Project, an anti-secrecy organization, are pursuing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed last spring, asking the executive branch to disclose any FISA wiretap orders or applications targeting the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign, Mr. Trump or people associated with him.

In the motion asking the intelligence court to unseal the Page materials, The Times is being represented in part by the Yale Law School Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic.