Republicans have spent months trying to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation by claiming it was all based on an unverified opposition research document — and that the FBI withheld the source of the information from a federal court.
The argument never really held up, as the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign didn’t begin with the so-called “Steele dossier,” and parts of the document — which details Russia’s alleged efforts to manipulate Trump and his campaign — have indeed been verified. But it makes even less sense in the wake of the release of the Nunes and Schiff memos, which reveal that the FBI did inform the FISA court n its application to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page that some of its information, but not all, came from sources seeking to discredit Trump.
Instead of acknowledging that their FBI conspiracy theory was wrong, Republicans have adopted a new argument. It’s not that the FBI didn’t reveal the motivations of their source to the court — it’s that they weren’t explicit enough.
Dem Memo: FBI did not disclose who the clients were – the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Wow!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2018
To protect identities, however, the FBI doesn’t usually specify the precise sources of information in FISA applications. And as both the Nunes and Schiff memos make clear, the FBI followed protocol by informing FISA judges that some of its information about Page came from political sources.
But House Intelligence Commitee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Carter Page, and others are arguing that while the FBI may have informed the FISA court that some of its information came from the dossier, they buried it in a footnote that judges can’t reasonably be expected to have read.
This new line of argument was summarized by Carter Page during a CNN interview on Tuesday morning, after host Chris Cuomo reminded him of the facts.
“In the FISA application, you’ll say it was just a footnote, but it was informed to the court where it came from,” Cuomo said. “The president got it wrong I think where he said the FBI didn’t disclose who the clients were. I think he was misreading recent information that Christopher Steele may not have been told who the clients were… but the court knew where it was coming from, it wasn’t the only part of the application, and four different judges approved or extended it — what’s wrong with that set of criteria in terms of surveilling somebody?”
Page responded by arguing that FISA court judges are too busy to read footnotes.
“Chris, you know, district court judges, who sit on the FISA court… if you look at how busy their schedules are, they are just jammed with information,” he said. “So to have them be stuck with trying to figure out something that’s hidden in a footnote… I mean, it’s like reading hieroglyphics. ”
Page isn’t the only one making this argument. During a recent Fox & Friends appearance, Nunes told hosts that “a footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign.” And over the weekend, Kevin McCarthy told Fox News that the FBI “put it in a footnote so people couldn’t see it.”
In short, Trump-supporting Republicans’ case that the entire Mueller investigation is rooted in political corruption now hinges on font size.