The Voice From The “Grave”: How The FBI and Democrats Over-Played The Classification Card On The Nunes Memo

downloadBelow is my column in the Hill newspaper on the controversy over the four-page memo continues to simmer in Washington.  The memo will not change the course of the Mueller investigation.  It may lead however to new investigations. Indeed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has referred the matter to internal investigators while members have called for a new special counsel.  There remains considerable questions over representations on both sides in the dispute. For example, various Democrats have publicly stated that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe did not say that, absent the dossier, the FBI would probably not have received approval of its FISA application.  What is clear is that someone is lying to the American people.  Indeed, as the column below discusses, the public was already misled on the classified content of the memo.
Here is the column:

The release of the four-page memo by the House Intelligence Committee has triggered preset responses from both sides. The memo is, in fact, enlightening in a number of respects. However, the most alarming elements may be what it does not contain.

First, it is important to start with what we previously knew. At the heart of this controversy is the dossier that was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, and Fusion GPS with funding from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Previously, Clinton’s top campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, and former campaign chairman, John Podesta, denied any connection to the dossier. After news stores confirmed the funding, Elias and Clinton herself admitted that they did fund this effort.

Second, we knew that Steele shopped the information in the dossier to various reporters to try to get them published during the election. Third, the contents of this dossier were so unverified that virtually all of the reporters declined to run the story during the campaign.

The memo confirms that top FBI officials, including former director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe, used the dossier to secure secret surveillance targeting a U.S. citizen. That citizen was Carter Page, an aide to the presidential candidate of the party opposing the Obama administration. Comey signed off on multiple Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications targeting Page.

The memo states that the applications never mentioned that the dossier was funded in significant part by the Clinton campaign, even though high-ranking officials knew about that funding. That would obviously be highly material to judging the value of the information. To make matters worse, Steele admitted to FBI agent Bruce Orr, who was later demoted, that he hated Trump and was “desperate that Donald Trump not be elected and was passionate about his not being president.”

The memo alleges that McCabe admitted in testimony that, absent the Democratic-funded dossier, there would not have been a FISA surveillance order. In fairness to the Democrats, it should be noted that this brief memo does not reveal the full record given to the FISA court. Page has a rather suspicious history in dealings with the Russians that is entirely separate from this dossier.

Moreover, this is largely a summary of testimony, and we should read that testimony once truly classified information has been redacted. Finally, there is reference to a prior investigation of George Papadopoulos, who later advised Trump on foreign affairs, which preceded the dossier and may have been an added basis for the original application.

However, my greatest concern is what is not in the dossier: classified information “jeopardizing national security.” Leaders like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared that the committee had moved beyond “dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for our national security” and “disregarded the warnings of the Justice Department and the FBI.”

Now we can read the memo. There is a sharp and alarming disconnect between the descriptions of Pelosi and the House Intelligence Committee’s Ranking Minority Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the actual document. It clearly does not contain information that would reveal sources or methods.


The memo reaffirms concerns over the lower standards that apply to FISA applications as well as the misuse of classification authority. Most of this memo references what was already known about the use of the dossier. What was added was testimonial evidence and details to the publicly known information. Yet, the FBI vehemently objected to the release of the memo as threatening “grave” consequences to national security ground.

However, even before the release, the FBI seemed to be objecting to the framing of the facts rather than the disclosure of “sources and methods.” The FBI said publicly that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” That is not an objection to classified material but the fairness of the portrayal. For years, many of us have objected that the intelligence agencies classified material for improper purposes to frame public debate or conceal embarrassing information. Unless there was a material change in this memo, it proved to be an empty “grave” after weeks of overheated hyperbole.

The FBI opposition to declassification of this memo should be a focus of both Congress and the public. The memo is clearly designed to avoid revealing classified information. For civil libertarians, this is a rare opportunity to show how classified rules are misused for strategic purposes by these agencies. The same concern can be directed toward members who read this memo and represented to the public that the release would clearly damage national security. In the end, there are legitimate questions of political bias raised in the conduct of some FBI officials. This does not mean that there are not legitimate answers for these questions but the effort to keep this memo classified should be itself a matter of grave national concern.

There are indeed two narratives competing in this controversy, one involving improper political influences in the FBI, and another of improper political pressure from the White House. Both could well be true but it is bizarre to suggest that only one of those allegations should be investigated. The FBI and the intelligence agencies have a long and documented history of such abuse. This includes the targeting of political leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. As I discussed earlier, Subsection 11(g) of Rule X was created to allow members of Congress to vote to release classified information when the majority determines “that the public interest would be served by such disclosure.”

This serves the public interest, as would a response from the Democrats and the FBI. Regardless of what comes out of the merits of the Russian investigation, Congress should investigate the misuse of classified proceedings in both the securing of the FISA applications and the later effort to prevent the release of this memo.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He has been lead counsel in national security cases for more than two decades and has testified before the intelligence committees. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

342 thoughts on “The Voice From The “Grave”: How The FBI and Democrats Over-Played The Classification Card On The Nunes Memo”

  1. I want to bet that no one making these comments have any idea how national security can be compromised or what top secret intelligence looks like. Only a very few people do. Do you think its some James Bond movie and Top Secret plans are some blueprint for a laser than can blow up the Earth? No. Top Secret information is time and places and people. That’s it. Very simple. If Russians know the dates and times Carter Page was under surveillance I can imagine there are many assets we have in Russia that were protecting your ignorant asses that are now on the run for their lives. You know longer trust our government? I do not blame you. People in government have lied. They have twisted the truth. I have seen it. There are bad people in government and their are people who believed in truth justice and the american way. Learn to distinguish the difference before Putin frieds your brains completely. They are fighting and dying for you right now so both of us can sit on the couch safe and warm and comment on blogs.

    1. Many of the regular commenters at this blog are Russian trolls. The website, Recode, documented Russian troll and bot activity on the internet. The site’s accompanying article described the views they espouse, based on directions from Moscow.

      1. Linda, when you can’t argue the facts you argue crap or change the subject. That is your expertise.

  2. I would err on the side of allowing all the information to be made public. It is clear from the memo that there were improprieties involved in the over-classification of the document.

    Subsequent to the publishing of the original article above, I heard Tuesday morning that the main objection to the release by the FBI was the presence of the words, “long-time FBI asset,” in reference to Christopher Steele. [Source: Judge A. Napolitano, Fox News Judicial Analyst] This statement implies that Mr. Steele may have been working for the FBI at the same time that he was working for Britain’s MI-6, which would be a violation of our Five Eyes agreement. Whether there is any truth to the affiliation, I don’t know. However, this affiliation is mentioned in the memo. I have reason to believe the FBI wanted to keep this relationship secret, and that this was their only objection to the final version of the memo.

    In conclusion, I would like to see as much information come out about this sordid episode of espionage, since I believe the public’s right to know is more important than keeping secret the details of how and why the FBI may have spied on a political campaign, to the possible benefit of the opposition campaign.

    1. ” State Run Propoganda machine that is Fox News”

      Jacquie, Sounds like you just awoke from a coma somewhere in the past year

          1. oh really. okay dangerous hanky panky that you cant explain right? So now you dont trust our FBI who is now at this very moment risking their lives to protect you, because of some “dangerous hanky panky”

            1. Answer the question:

              “Tell us Jacquie, what did the memo say that was untrue? Should the FBi not release to the FISA court both the positives and negatives in their FISA request? I want to hear from someone who believes they have news that mespo doesn’t.”

            2. Jacquie:

              When you hear of a rogue police officer unjustifiably shooting a suspect, do you blow it off because there are good and honest police officers out there? Do you fight so hard from allowing the public to know the facts about the case?

              Or do you acknowledge that there are bad apples among the good ones? When the story is about bad apples in leadership absolutely abusing their authority over American citizens in an attempt to defraud the voters of our entire country, that needs to be investigated thoroughly and corrected. Justice should be served, and justice is blind to politics.

              Jacquie, what if, because of political positions you have taken, your opponent paid for a fabricated file on you, took it to the FBI, and had you unlawfully surveilled?

              Your claim about the good people of the FBI is a straw man argument that no one has made. Everyone knows there are good people in the FBI. The allegation is that they are led by politicized agents working for politics over the job.

              1. Okay Karen we agree on something!!! Take each case on the basis of the facts right. Don’t just make over arching assumptions. I totally agree. So let us look at this case specifically based on the facts. It takes a lot, al ot of background to understand what has happened so its easy to be misled. Why was there such a push to release the memo? Didn’t Trump, a person you seem to trust, say that this memo would vindicate him?

                1. You keep asking questions Jacquie without ever answering the legitimate one’s posed to you. Apparently, some one fed you this question through the mainstream media or a hit blog, but they didn’t feed you any answers to the real questions that need to be answered.

                  Start answering the questions.

                  You can’t. I think many of us already realize that. That is why you go to another question fed to you by the media.

                  1. Allan you asked me what was untrue in this memo. I said nothing was untrue. I then am asking you what is the conspiracy that you see in this memo? Why did this memo show you? You said Hanky panky. can you please explain what you mean by hanky panky?

                    1. Jacquie – the FISC already published a heavily redacted report on the same issue as the Nunes memo, raking the FBI and the DOJ over the coals. The difference is the Nunes memo gives us the names that were redacted in the FISC report. FISC did everything except take them behind the woodshed and spank them. Actually, they should have reported them to the DC Bar.

                    2. Jacquie, you say the memo is true (“nothing was untrue “)

                      The memo is online. I think I posted this or something similar earlier and it might make the actual memo clearer as far as its importance. I think this was written by Byron York.

                      “* The Steele dossier formed an essential part of the initial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page.
                      Andrew McCabe confirmed that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.

                      The four FISA surveillance applications were signed by, in various combinations, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, Dana Boente, and Rod Rosenstein.

                      The FBI authorized payments to Steele for work on the dossier. The FBI terminated its agreement with Steele in late October when it learned, by reading an article in Mother Jones, that Steele was talking to the media.

                      The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.

                      DOJ official Bruce Ohr met with Steele beginning in the summer of 2016 and relayed to DOJ information about Steele’s bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.”

                      If you are unable to find the memo on line I will post it for you.

                    3. Okay given that all that is true which really neither you or I really know, why did Trump want this memo released. I thought you he said it would vindicate him.

                    4. One of Trumps earliest statements where the press skewered him was when he said he was wiretapped. Trump wasn’t that sophisticated to understand all the intricacies of spying so the term while not being exactly correct from a technical point of view was totally correct from the view of a person who was never in government. That memo vindicates his comment and demonstrates the partisan nature of our mainstream media. He also claimed things were being leaked and a whole bunch of things was going on that should not have been happening. He wants to end the shenanigans and get back to work for the American people.

                      You may not recognize how much damage the Democratic Party has inflicted on our foreign policy. In their attempt to weaken the President and even impeach him they made Putin relatively stronger and stronger because they didn’t permit one part of our government to balance the power in various regions of the world even through leader to leader negotiation.

                    5. He wasn’t wired tapped. Please read the law. There was no FISA warrant on Trump. The law protects the identities of U.S. citizens until it is revealed there is reasonable cause they are working with foreign agents. Trump was unmasked. Its a simple online search

                    6. “He wasn’t wired tapped. Please read the law.”

                      As I said the President used the common word “wiretapped” rather than the operative terms one involved in the security services would use. Trump is not a politician (which seems to be a good thing nowadays). You keep assuming others know very little and you know a lot, but the reality is quite the opposite. Trump’s campaign in part or in whole was surveilled and based on the Nunes Memo that demonstrated the surveillance was likely illegal. It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.

                      In an attempt to demonstrate your false superior knowledge you diverge from the subject at hand and say: “ The law protects the identities of U.S. citizens until it is revealed there is reasonable cause they are working with foreign agents”

                      That involves unmasking and that too is a question of legality and whether those that unmasked individuals did so for reasons of national security or political reasons. Based on many factors one can make a case for investigating the unmaskers for illegal activities. Lois Lerner is another example of a government official that seems to have crossed over the line of legality. She wouldn’t testify and then was given immunity. I don’t want to diverge from the topic at hand, but it appears the past administration’s government advocates crossed over the line a bit too often. It is better we remain on Turley’s topic.

                      You continue to be quite smug and don’t seem to have the interest in truth that I stated on the blog was a possibility. It seems you are just another ideological hack that cares more for ideology than for the nation.

                    7. But there is no hope. If you are this easily led down the garden path to support a president who is not even enforcing sanctions that a Republican held congress implemented there is no hope.

                    8. “led down the garden path”

                      What are you talking about? You can’t even stay on one subject where each reply is responsive to another. You think you can mindread. You are smug. The truth is you have very little knowledge and misuse the little knowledge you have.

        1. Now Jacquie that you got my attention let’s see if you have been out of coma long enough to know what is happening. Why don’t you answer the question previously asked while you apparently were sleeping?

          “Tell us Jacquie, what did the memo say that was untrue? Should the FBi not release to the FISA court both the positives and negatives in their FISA request? I want to hear from someone who believes they have news that mespo doesn’t.”

          1. I’m going to stop being smug. I’m really going to try my best to explain this to walk you through this so you can understand. The fact that we are fighting is exactly what Putin wants. I’m hoping and praying that someone like you is willing to believe if the facts are presented to them.

            1. Let’s accept this is what Putin wants. Now answer the question:

              “Tell us Jacquie, what did the memo say that was untrue? Should the FBi not release to the FISA court both the positives and negatives in their FISA request? I want to hear from someone who believes they have news that mespo doesn’t.”

              One cannot trust you until you are willing to open yourself up to scrutiny and answer questions and offer proof.

                1. We know that. That is why I gave you the hint by using the word ‘foreign’ earlier along with a bit of information. Apparently, you have difficulty picking up subtlety and that figures because you have been hit in the head by sound bites and you might never recover. Stop being so smug. You are just another person that wants to engage in partisan politics where most everything goes over your head.

                  1. okay so the U.S. has the technology to listen to everyone. This technology is top secret. Does everyone agree on this?

                    1. The intelligence agencies are responsible to the people through the Congress and the executive branch. They have been given privileges to protect us, not to abuse the law by promoting their partisan or financial interests.

            2. That’s your idea of stopping the smugness? Google the word. “…exactly what Putin wants.” You took the words right out of Adam Schiff’s mouth. Would be nice if we could all step away from team politics. Instead, we allow our politicians, who are supposed to be working for us, to rant from extreme ends of the political spectrum. That serves them, not us.

              1. okay so the U.S. has the technology to listen to everyone. This technology is top secret. Does everyone agree on this?

                1. “The intelligence agencies are responsible to the people through the Congress and the executive branch. They have been given privileges to protect us, not to abuse the law by promoting their partisan or financial interests.”

                  I posted this in the wrong place, but while the FBI has been the right to spy on American citizens it does so under the auspices of Congress and works under the executive branch.

                  1. We agree on that. Congress and the executive branch are answerable to the people. So you are concerned about FISA. I’m not sure when you took up this torch, but I’m asking you to look at the motivations of this president. Why does he care about this particular warrant? They probably had a warrant on several other people, including our former National Security Advisor.

                    1. Based on the memo that you agree is true, we should all want this information out and other information that pertains to this as long as it doesn’t compromise security. In fact, our government has held too many secrets from the people. That is how government’s control people and as that control is tightened our Constitutional Republic become a Constitutional Republic in name only.

      1. Allan, …
        I haven’t gone through all of the comments in this thread yet.
        I noticed “Jacquie’s” comment about “The State run propoganda machine that is Fox News” warping “yuor minds”.
        That is a revealing statement. It reveals nothing about those who supposedly watch Fox News, but it says a lot about those who mindlessly use that ploy as if it somehow backs their own beliefs. Unlike a number of others who comment here, Jacquie let’s us know right off the bat where she’s coming from.
        She “knows” where people who comment here get there news.
        She “knows” that she has that handy “Fox News” comment she can use to counter comments she doesn’t like, or can’t refute.
        Rather than sticking to the merits of a debate, those who use the “oh, Fox News”, or “Pravda Fox News”, or similar variations can substititute stunts for real debate.
        It’s not only a fallback position, used as a last resort by those at a loss to present a decent argument.
        In many cases, it’s a mainstay way to dodge an intellectually honest, genuine debate.
        So knowing ahead of time that they believe they can “score point” by pulling out the “Fox News” remark ( it only gets more and more effective after it’s used here hundreds, maybe thousands of times 😏)
        is useful and instructive .

        1. Tome “The State run propoganda machine that is Fox News” (sic) is nothing more than a soundbite that people latch onto when they are unknowledgeable about what is going on. It’s the fashion of the day and everyone likes to be fashionable. 🙂

          1. Allan,…
            – At same point, maybe they’ll realize just how friggin stupid and lame those “Fox News” remarks are.
            I doubt it, but it’s a possibilty.

            1. I know some really involved smart people who have fallen into a trap because their ego doesn’t permit them to be flexible. In Jacquie’s case, I think a good portion is due to the deprivation of real news along with peer pressure.

        2. Tom, add this to the discussion from Powerline which is shorter than the original source. I didn’t want to confuse Jacquie with any more than the Nunes Memo. She may have been snookered by Schiff et. al. and might be searching for the truth.

          A heavily redacted version of the memo by Senators Grassley and Graham referring Christopher Steele for possible prosecution was released today. Senator Grassley “is now calling on the FBI to update the classification of the referral to allow complete disclosure of important context from the documents on which it is based.” Senator Grassley’s press release today is posted here together with the text of his February 2 letter to Wray and Rosenstein.

          I have embedded the Grassley referral memo below via Scribd. Byron York summarizes the revelations that can be gleaned from the memo as redacted in this Washington Examiner column. The referral memo identifies a previously undisclosed memo by Steele that derives, you might say, from a tangled Clintonian web:

          It appears to confirm some level of coordination between the extended Clinton circle and the Obama administration in the effort to seek damaging information about then-candidate Trump.

          According to the referral, Steele wrote the additional memo based on anti-Trump information that originated with a foreign source. In a convoluted scheme outlined in the referral, the foreign source gave the information to an unnamed associate of Hillary and Bill Clinton, who then gave the information to an unnamed official in the Obama State Department, who then gave the information to Steele. Steele wrote a report based on the information, but the redacted version of the referral does not say what Steele did with the report after that.

          Please read the whole column. As York aptly says: “It’s a lot to digest. But further details will have to wait until the rest of the referral is declassified.”

  3. It was reckless of Trump to discuss national intelligence info. with Hannity on a line that was easily tapped by Russia (a sentence that offers the most benign characterization possible).

  4. There are felons or fools at the FBI.

    Either there was malice or there was incompetence at the top of the FBI.

    The FBI itself knew that the charges of “Russian Collusion” were false.

    Either Mueller knew the charges of “Russian Collusion” were false or McCabe, Comey et al. propagated false charges at the highest levels of the FBI deceiving Rosenstein and Mueller.

    Which is it Messrs. Rosenstein and Mueller, felons or fools?

    NBC –

    “Priebus, who was fired as chief of staff in July, added new details on Sunday, saying that McCabe initiated the conversation about the Times article.

    Priebus told NBC’s Chuck Todd that McCabe “walked into my office, shut my door and basically told me that The New York Times story that was in the paper, that first came out in February that said there are constant contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, with the door closed, looked at me and said ‘I want you to know that this story right here is total BS. It’s overstated and it’s not true.’”

    “This is the deputy director of the FBI. I didn’t know who he was, it’s the middle of February,” he added.

    Priebus also said in the interview that he never saw any evidence of collusion and that he never heard President Trump say that he wanted to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

    “I never felt that I was involved in something nefarious the whole way through, from the beginning to the end. So you can understand the frustration of the President when he’s told he’s not under investigation,” Priebus said.”

    1. “There are felons or fools at the FBI. Either there was malice or there was incompetence at the top of the FBI.” — George

      I love the logical OR. Either this or that — nothing in between. But what more could one expect from a person that argues against federalism yet loves quoting Hamilton?

      1. Law and order employees ought to wake up to the fact that they are not a special exclusion to the donor class’ plot.The barrage of attacks against the FBI will continue at an unrelenting pace (the latest example related to the gymnasts’ doctor, Nasser) because it is part of a larger, right wing campaign. FBI agents voting Republican (much of Mueller’s team) will eventually recognize they are in the cross-hairs. It’ll likely occur simultaneous to agency funding cuts and the Koch’s attacks on their federal pensions.

        If the FBI wants to see a pattern that replicates the scheme, they can look at a different, targeted American institution- public schools. The playbook includes “philanthropic foundations” funding all-expenses paid trips to seminars sponsored by non-profit journalism organizations where reporters are told how to write about the “crisis”. The seminars may include professors (privately-funded) and a Pew organization representative to provide an appearance of legitimacy. Then, the oligarch-funded think tanks will add supporting research from their intellectual prostitutes. Politicians will insert know-nothing industry insiders in leadership roles. The FBI will find itself starved of funds by politicians which will aid in building the case about what they aren’t doing. And, they’ll find their hands unfairly tied e.g. FISA court rules will change.
        The Paul Weyrich teaching manual is a must-read for workers at the FBI and all Americans. The donor class has, for some time, been implementing the lessons, one institution at a time.

      2. “I want you to know that this story right here is total BS. It’s overstated and it’s not true.’”

        – Andrew McCabe

        Please deny that McCabe has already been disciplined for his infractions.

        Thanks for reading.

      3. Did Hamilton forcibly impose a communistic welfare state including “Affirmative Action Privilege”, quotas and generational cash public assistance? Did he dictate HamiltonCare?

  5. @Assange asks

    Which James Clapper is lying? and posted this video

    Back in March of 2017 when the deep state henchmen needed to attack Trump for his Twitter claim that Obama “wiretapped” Trump tower, dragged out this lying sack of shit James Clapper to attack Trump by claiming there was no FISA. Fast forward to January 31st, Clapper just claimed that not only was Trump team under FISA surveillance, but that the Dossier was used to get an extension of the FISA. James Clapper, a known liar and perjure is at it again.

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