"Worse than a nothing burger": The Nunes memo lands with a thud

The Nunes memo admits that it doesn't discredit the Trump-Russia probe, but buries that part under a smokescreen

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 2, 2018 1:59PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Nunes memo has been released. The partisan document released by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., proved absolutely nothing, aside from the fact that Nunes is trying to throw up a smokescreen to distract from the Trump-Russia scandal he's supposed to be investigating.

The assertion the Republican memo does little to back up is that several high-ranking law enforcement officials in both the Obama and Trump administration signed off on numerous affidavits that relied on politically biased evidence.

Here are some key takeaways from the four-page memo:

1. It opens by mentioning that "on October 21, 2016, DOJ and FBI sought and received a FISA probable court order" that authorized electronic surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign associate, from the FISC.

The Republican report conveniently omits, however, that Page was actually known to American counterintelligence officials as far back as 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal. In 2013, Page met with a Russian with ties to the Kremlin who was later charged by the Justice Department for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. The memo doesn't mention why the probable cause order was issued three years later, as well as one week before then-FBI Director James Comey released his controversial letter on Hillary Clinton's email investigation.

2.  Over and over again the Nunes memo says one thing: The Steele dossier was biased, therefore, the decision to surveil Page was wrong.

As USA TODAY reporter Brad Heath notes, however, Republicans never claim that it was illegal:

The Republican report finds various ways of arguing that the Steele dossier was biased but at no point manages to connect that alleged bias to any of the larger issues involving the Trump-Russia investigation.

3. There is no way to look at all of the evidence from the FISA request that was used to decide to surveil Page and thereby determine the veracity of the memo's assertions. What's more, despite repeatedly insisting that the Steele Dossier (put together by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele) was instrumental toward granting the right to spy on Page, it would not be unusual for judges to take motivation into account when deciding to grant a warrant, according to The Washington Post.

4. The memo also ignores how FBI agent Peter Strzok, despite being described in the memo as biased toward Hillary Clinton, co-wrote the Comey letter that helped derail Clinton's campaign less than a month before Election Day.

5. In the final point of the Nunes memo, Republicans admit that the Steele Dossier wasn't what opened the investigation into the Trump-Russia connection. Instead, as the memo acknowledges, "the Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok." This significantly undercuts Trump's hope that the Nunes memo will discredit the Trump-Russia investigation.

Reaction from Congressional Democrats was swift and dismissive.

“It’s worse than a nothing burger, it’s like having nothing mustard,” California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. “There is factual inaccuracies, it’s misleading.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa