Democrats Release Their Own Memo
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The dueling memos are both out now. Yesterday, Democrats on the House intelligence committee finally had their turn. After initially being blocked by President Trump, Democrats released their heavily redacted memo to rebut the claims that Republicans on the committee had made in their version. This is complicated. But stay with me. In their memo, the Republicans basically said there was an abuse of power by the FBI in surveillance of one of President Trump's former campaign aides. But the Democrats say the FBI relied on multiple independent sources of intelligence in requesting that surveillance.
We're going to talk through this now with Jamil Jaffer. He was a lawyer in the White House under President George W. Bush. And he was senior counsel to the House intel committee. He joins us now. Welcome back.
JAMIL JAFFER: Thanks, Lulu. Good to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. We have the Democratic memo. What have you learned from reading it?
JAFFER: Well, look. I think that what we've learned is there's a real debate here between the two sides about the substance of this application on Carter Page, the FISA application and the three renewals. And, you know, what was going on here? According to the Republican memo, it was a highly slanted investigation. Information from this dossier, which has largely been discredited now, was used to obtain the surveillance.
And for the Democrats, you see a response that says, no, in fact, there were lots of sources of information. The memo was but one source and that this was a long, ongoing investigation long before they even heard about the memo. And we ought not believe the Republicans' claims. And so we have a very clear now debate. The American people can read both memos and have a honest discussion about, you know, who has the right of this here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let's run through two of the main issues...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Briefly. One is Carter Page, the former Trump campaign aide. The Democratic memo contends Page was under surveillance for many reasons which initially had nothing to do with the controversial Steele dossier.
JAFFER: Yeah. I mean, I think - look, I think that everyone agrees that that's sort of part of what's going on here. Carter Page had long had contacts with Russian intelligence officers, apparently unwitting to him. At one point, it appears he may have been working with the FBI to talk about those folks. And so that has now come out. And it's pretty clear. We've known this for a while, though. These are facts that we've known or at least we've heard rumors of.
And now it's been declassified on both sides - the fact the Carter Page had longstanding contacts with Russian intelligence. And now the only question is, was there enough information in 2016 to do new surveillance on him based on his going forward context? And, you know, from all that we've seen, it seems like there were plenty of good reasons for the FBI to be interested in Mr. Page.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. And the second issue is the Steele dossier itself. The Republicans charged the FBI was politically motivated and relied on this unverified information from Christopher Steele and that his work can't be trusted because it was ultimately funded by the Democrats. The Democrats now say that the FBI disclosed this in its application to the surveillance court, which was approved by four Republican-appointed judges.
JAFFER: Yes. So OK. So this is the really interesting part of the debate, right? So now what's become clear is the FBI did tell the FISA court that they got this information from a source who was working with a U.S. political sort of entity that was looking to - that the FBI speculated was looking to discredit a campaign - one - which in this case - the campaign of President Trump. And so now we know what the facts are. So the question is should they had been very clear and say it was the Hillary Clinton campaign that paid for this memo?
That's really the only debate now - was, should they have used the words Hillary Clinton campaign paid for or Democrats paid for it? And so that's a debate. And I think - look. I think that from the context, it will be clear to the FISA court that it was politically motivated, or at least the FBI believed that there was political motivation behind the paying for the dossier or whatever the information that they used the facts from. And so did they have to go that next step? And that's really all the debate is about today. And we're sort of almost - it's like angels dancing on the head of the pin at this point.
JAFFER: And so it's an interesting debate and one that, by the way, the Trump administration could easily clear up if they wanted to declassify the entire application with appropriate redactions for...
JAFFER: ...Sort of the methods because now we've got so much information out there, Lulu, about this between the Republican, Democrat memos. You know, it would be highly unusual to declassify an application. But everything that's happened up to this point is highly unusual.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you feel like that needs to happen just so we can sort of settle this. My last question - just a few seconds...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Is this important, really, at the end of the day? Or is this all a distraction?
JAFFER: Well, in a lot of ways, this is a distraction from the larger issue, which is the Russia investigation and the concern that Russia's been influencing our elections, right? But in the one side, who was involved or who did what with whom? The real problem is that Russia is attacking our body politics. And we have to come together as Republicans, Democrats and really fight back against that problem because we've got by-elections coming up here in 2018.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jamil Jaffer is the founder of the National Security Institute. Thank you very much for joining us.
JAFFER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.