House Republicans have released a memo that paints the FBI and Justice Department as being biased against President Donald Trump — so much so that actors in both agencies have conjured up the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia to take the president down.
The memo was written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), and it frames special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as an FBI effort to hurt Trump. To make this a truly comprehensive conspiracy theory, it uses both Hillary Clinton and the infamous Steele dossier in establishing the connections.
There are a lot of moving parts to what Nunes is claiming. My colleague Jane Coaston explained it in depth here, but we decided to also organize our thoughts with these diagrams:
1) A FISA court judge reviewed evidence and approved a warrant to wiretap a Trump associate
In fall 2016, FBI investigators applied for a warrant with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump adviser. They presented evidence that Page may be acting as a Russian agent and the judge approved the warrant.
There isn’t much disagreement up to this point.
2) The core of the Nunes argument
The FBI says it got its evidence from several sources, and typically FISA warrant applications require corroboration of the information.
But the Nunes memo implies the case was primarily built on the Steele dossier — and points out that it was funded partially by a law firm on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
And here’s the important part: Nunes says investigators misled the judge by not saying they were relying on the Steele dossier.
3) Rod Rosenstein is dragged into this as well
The Nunes memo points out that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved the application for a renewal of the warrant knowing they were relying heavily on the DNC-funded Steele dossier.
This part is crucial because it is saying Rosenstein knew about the warrant and approved of it. And since Nunes believes the warrant application was mostly from a DNC- and Clinton-funded report, he is trying to imply Rosenstein has an anti-Trump bias.
4) The conspiracy comes together
So why is the Rosenstein angle important?
Because if he, as a proxy for the Justice Department (specifically the FBI), can be painted as anti-Trump, then it means his hiring of special counsel Robert Mueller had ulterior anti-Trump motives. It means the entire Trump-Russia investigation is happening because some “deep state” officials want to undermine Trump and take him down, and it’s not being conducted on its own merits.
Here’s the full reason Republicans think this memo matters so much, diagrammed out:
So if you’re following along, Nunes is trying to imply that the evidence for investigations against Trump rely mostly on the Steele dossier:
However, in Nunes’s memo, he admits that the piece of evidence that triggered the FBI investigation was information from former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos.
So Team Nunes is admitting that Papadopoulos triggered the FBI's Russia investigation -- not the Steele dossier? pic.twitter.com/2A3Mf4P1Of— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) February 2, 2018
And if you get the feeling Nunes’s theory is contingent on lots and lots of other incredible assumptions, you’re not alone.
As former FBI special agent and current Yale Law professor Asha Rangappa writes (hat-tip to my colleague Andrew Prokop):
The Nunes Memo reportedly alleges that at least a dozen FBI agents and DOJ prosecutors fabricated evidence, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to commit perjury, lucked out on being randomly assigned Judge Low Blood Sugar who looked the other way, and — coincidentally — ended up obtaining evidence that justified extending the initial FISA surveillance. ...
If Nunes has in fact singlehandedly uncovered this vast criminal enterprise, it’s hard to know what’s more astonishing: That a government bureaucracy managed to pull it off — or that Nunes has exposed it all in a scant four-page memo.
This isn’t the first time Republicans have pushed incredibly farfetched theories of how Hillary Clinton is connected to some deeply corrupt schemes. We made a similar diagram explaining the conspiracy theory around the Uranium One deal. The Nunes memo’s theory, however, might push a more baseless narrative.