Was the FBI out to get candidate Donald Trump?
That’s the big question emerging from the much-ballyhooed memo from Representative Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes’s memo focuses on the application for a FISA warrant against former Trump foreign-policy aide Carter Page; the application supposedly relied heavily on the Hillary Clinton–funded Fusion GPS dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele. That dossier was filled with unverified information. According to Nunes, top actors at the FBI knew all of this and used the dossier as the basis for the application — all without informing the FISA court that the dossier was a political document.
But the case seems to be this: Fusion GPS funneled its dossier to the FBI; the FBI’s top officials, including director James Comey, worked with the DOJ, led by attorney general Loretta Lynch and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, to attain the FISA warrant based on the shoddy Steele information. This is evidence that the “deep state” wanted to get Trump, and that the same “deep state” wants to take Trump out now via the Mueller investigation.
It may well be true that the FISA application on Page was fatally flawed and driven by prosecutorial aggression. But in order for the most conspiratorial “deep state” claims to be true, a few other things have to be true. First, we have to assume there’s no there there: that the FBI had no reasonable grounds for suspicion regarding the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Second, we have to assume that the entire Steele dossier is pure garbage, and that all parts of it remain unverified. Third, we have to assume that the FBI’s attempts to get a warrant against Page were driven by anti-Trump bias, not by serious suspicions about Page. Fourth, we have to assume that all of this wasn’t bureaucratic incompetence, but malice. Finally, we have to assume that the same supposedly bad actors within the FBI and DOJ are now staffing the Mueller investigation, or at least that their legacy continues through Mueller.
Second, we know that large portions of the Steele dossier were garbage. We don’t know that the FBI knew that the entire Steele dossier was garbage; as Comey testified, he knew portions were “salacious and unverified,” but he never testified that every element of the document was false. That doesn’t mean the FBI should have used the dossier as the basis for a warrant. But it does mean that accusing FBI officials of buying into the dossier wholesale may not be correct.
We know that large portions of the Steele dossier were garbage. We don’t know that the FBI knew that the entire Steele dossier was garbage.
Third, Page was a deeply suspicious character. That still may not justify the independent warrant from 2016, as Andrew McCarthy points out, but it does justify the FBI’s suspicions regarding Page. Page has a long and nefarious history with Russia: In his early career, he advised Gazprom, the Russian official oil company; in 2013, the Russians attempted to cultivate Page as an intelligence source and stated in intercepted communications that “it’s obvious he wants to earn loads of money”; a FISA warrant was obtained against Page in 2014; that same year, he wrote in favor of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Finally, in 2016, he became a Trump foreign-policy advisor.
Fourth, it’s possible that serious suspicions about Page, combined with suspicions about Papadopoulos, led the FBI and DOJ to cut corners. That’s not quite the same thing as the FBI and DOJ deciding to “get Trump” and then backtracking to Papadopoulos and Page. This could be prosecutorial overreach and incompetence. The FBI texts between agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page cut in favor of the bias theory, of course — but then again, Strzok did state that he didn’t see any evidence of actual collusion by 2017 in those same texts.
Finally, the notion that Mueller is somehow responsible for any of this — when he fired Strzok and Page, and when he had nothing to do with the FISA application on Page — is a stretch. That’s why Republicans from Representative Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) have disclaimed any such connection, and have stood up for the continuation of the probe without interference.
There is a serious problem inside the FBI and the DOJ with regard to the Hillary Clinton investigation. We know this. There may be a serious problem with the FISA process; that problem may have affected the Page application. But we should be careful about the conclusions we draw from the evidence we currently have. If we aren’t careful, we’ll end up not just mischaracterizing events, but smearing clean FBI agents and destroying the basis for the FISA process as well.
— Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of the Daily Wire.