Amid all the excitement over the Devin Nunes #TheMemo, it is important to remember that it is a partisan summary of FISA warrant applications that we the People have not been allowed to see. And in determining whether you trust Nunes’s summary, it might be relevant that it inaccurately summarizes something that is public record: James Comey’s testimony in 2017 regarding whether the allegations in the memo had been verified. Here is the claim in Nunes’s memo:
Got that? Nunes claims that James Comey testified in June 2017 that “the Steele dossier” was “salacious and unverified.” The claim is not that a particular portion of the dossier is salacious and unverified. The claim is that Comey testified that the dossier (“it”) is salacious and unverified. That’s what Nunes says in the memo excerpt above.
And it’s not true. That’s not James Comey’s testimony.
I already examined this issue exhaustively in a post from January 2, rebutting a similar allegation made by Andrew C. McCarthy. Refer to that post for more detail, which I will summarize here. As I noted, Comey was specifically asked whether the FBI had confirmed any criminal allegations in the dossier, and he refused to answer the question in an open setting. Here is one example from the transcript:
BURR: In the public domain is this question of the “Steele dossier,” a document that has been around out in for over a year. I’m not sure when the FBI first took possession of it, but the media had it before you had it and we had it. At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?
COMEY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation.
Had Comey specifically said in closed session that nothing in the dossier had been verified, you’d be reading about it in this environment of politicized intelligence. But you’re not reading that, are you? Why do you suppose that is?
Later in his testimony, Comey referred to certain material as “salacious and unverified” — but he later implied that there were parts of the dossier that were verified and parts that were not. Here is the testimony where Comey used the term “salacious and unverified”:
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Comey, let me begin by thanking you for your voluntary compliance with our request to appear before this committee and assist us in this very important investigation. I want first to ask you about your conversations with the president, three conversations in which you told him that he was not under investigation. The first was during your January 6th meeting, according to your testimony, in which it appears that you actually volunteered that assurance. Is that correct?
COMEY: That’s correct.
COLLINS: Did you limit that statement to counterintelligence invest — investigations, or were you talking about any FBI investigation?
COMEY: I didn’t use the term counterintelligence. I was briefing him about salacious and unverified material. It was in a context of that that he had a strong and defensive reaction about that not being true. My reading of it was it was important for me to assure him we were not person investigating him.
Note well: Comey doesn’t say the entire dossier is “salacious and unverified.” He says he briefed the President about “salacious and unverified material.” Later, under questioning from Tom Cotton, Comey once again said Trump denied the “unverified and salacious parts”:
COMEY: The president called me I believe shortly before he was inaugurated as a follow-up to our conversation, private conversation on January the 6th. He just wanted to reiterate his rejection of that allegation and talk about—- he’d thought about it more. And why he thought it wasn’t true. The verified — unverified and salacious parts.
Again, the phrase “unverified and salacious parts” is clearly a reference to the peeing on the bed allegation, and perhaps a related mention of prostitutes. But “unverified and salacious parts” is language that pointedly does not rule out the concept that there were verified and non-salacious parts as well. Indeed, the pee-on-the-bed story was hardly the only allegation in the Steele dossier. When you put this together with the fact that Comey flat-out refused to answer (at least in an open setting) whether any parts of the dossier had been verified, it’s clear that the testimony is not what #TheMemo claims it is.
I have no idea what Andrew C. McCarthy thinks about #TheMemo today; his opinions on this whole topic have been something of a moving target. But there was a time when he said something I agree with, and here it is:
The FBI plainly did not dismiss the dossier out of hand. If it used some of the dossier’s information in a FISA-court surveillance application, that would only be problematic if agents failed to verify that particular information before seeking the warrant. That would be highly irregular. For now, we don’t know what happened.
Indeed. The real issue, which Nunes’s memo does not shed any real light on (and indeed almost purposefully obscures) is a) what specific parts of the dossier were used in the FISA application, and b) were those parts verified. As to those questions, we’re no closer to a real answer today than we were yesterday — except that if Nunes could give us chapter and verse, his presentation would be more convincing. And yet, he doesn’t.
Remember: Nunes is someone who already showed himself to be of questionable credibility when it came to defending Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped him. Now he’s misrepresenting public testimony that anyone can read. Yet we’re supposed to believe his summary of a still-classified FISA warrant based on these broad-brush smears?
Nope. No sale. I said before that it’s a terrible hashtag, but #ReleaseTheDocumentation — specifically the FISA application. If you don’t do that, I have no interest.