Since the investigation into Trump’s campaign was first reported, he and his allies have seized upon a number of different arguments that are meant to be exculpatory: Allegations that Trump was wiretapped during the election, that his team was unfairly surveilled, that former FBI director James Comey lied about his exchanges with Trump or leaked classified information. None of those rebuttals have served to derail the investigation currently being conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The Nunes memo incorporates many of the most prominent arguments offered in Trump’s defense, but it also enjoys the benefit at this point of being un-fact-checkable (since it’s still classified). Even once released, it reportedly picks from other classified reports that themselves cannot be assessed by the public.
It’s important to note that the memo arrives in the broader context of an enormously complicated 2016 election and its aftermath. In light of that, we’ve created this timeline of the events that led up to Nunes’s memo — including how it fits into an ongoing effort to defend Trump’s presidency.
Names of key players are in bold.
Before the election
Sep. 11-12, 2012. Terrorists attack two American facilities in Benghazi, Libya, killing four people including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Feb. 1, 2013. Hillary Clinton steps down as secretary of state. During her tenure, she used a private email address for department business, hosted on a server located at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
June. Carter Page, an energy industry consultant, is interviewed by the FBI after it records a Russian agent, Victor Podobnyy, discussing a plan to apparently leverage a relationship with Page to get information. “It’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money,” Podobnyy allegedly said of Page.
July 29. James B. Comey becomes director of the FBI, replacing Robert S. Mueller III.
May 8, 2014. The House votes to establish a select committee to investigate the attacks at Benghazi and any failures of Clinton‘s State Department to prevent them.
March 2. The New York Times reports that Clinton used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. The revelation came after the Benghazi committee requested records of communications between Clinton and her staff.
March 11. Jill McCabe, wife of FBI then-associate deputy director Andrew McCabe, announces her candidacy for the Virginia state Senate. McCabe begins the process of resolving any conflicts within the FBI that day.
April 12. Clinton announces her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
June 16. Donald Trump announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
Summer. Hackers believed to be linked to the Russian Federal Security Service access the servers of the Democratic National Committee. This is one of the first overt acts the Russians take as part of what American intelligence officials come to believe is an attempt to influence the results of the 2016 election.
July. The State Department inspector general alerts the FBI’s counterintelligence office that classified information was being stored on Clinton‘s private server. The FBI initiates an investigation. Among those involved in the investigation is an agent named Peter Strzok.
Autumn. The conservative website Free Beacon hires a firm called Fusion GPS to investigate Republican candidates for the presidency, including Trump.
October. A PAC called Common Good VA, tied to Terry McAuliffe, then Virginia’s governor, makes several large donations to Jill McCabe’s campaign, as it does to other Democrats seeking office.
Nov. 3. McCabe loses her bid for the state Senate.
Feb. 1. Andrew McCabe is promoted to the position of deputy director. In that role, he assumes responsibility for the Clinton email server investigation.
March 4. FBI agent Strzok texts with an FBI attorney named Lisa Page (not related to Carter), with whom he’s involved in an extramarital affair. Among the texts are a series, following a Republican primary debate, in which Strzok calls Trump “an idiot” and says that Clinton should win “100,000,000-0.” (He later jokes that he may vote for Trump because “he was pretty much calling for death for Snowden.” He adds: “I’m a single-issue voter…. Espionage Machine Party.”)
The texts continue for the duration of the campaign and include disparagement of Trump by Strzok as a “f—ing idiot.”
March 21. During a conversation with The Post, Trump announces his foreign-policy team, including Page and an energy consultant named George Papadopoulos.
April. With Trump‘s nomination all but inevitable, Fusion GPS approaches the Clinton campaign and the DNC about continuing its research into Trump. Marc Elias, a lawyer representing the two organizations, hires the firm.
April 26. Papadopoulos is told by a contact with connections to the Russian government that it has “dirt” on Clinton in the form of emails. The next month, Papadopoulos mentions this during a conversation with an Australian diplomat.
May 26. Trump clinches the Republican nomination.
June 6. Clinton secures the Democratic nomination.
June 15. The first documents stolen from the DNC are released, including a party opposition research file on Trump.
June 20. Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer hired by Fusion GPS, files the first of 17 reports that, together, will come to be known as the “dossier.” The first report focuses on what Steele describes as Russian efforts to “cultivate” Trump and suggests that the Russians have dirt on both presidential candidates.
Early July. Steele, after consulting with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, reaches out to the FBI about what he has heard.
July 2. Clinton is interviewed by the FBI.
July 5. Comey announces that the FBI has completed its investigation and that he would not recommend charges against Clinton, despite “evidence of potential violations.”
July 7. Page travels to Moscow with the campaign’s approval to give a speech.
July 19. Steele writes a report alleging that Page met with high-ranking Russians during his trip to Moscow. At some point in this period, Steele writes an undated memo outlining allegations from an “ethnic Russian close associate” of Trump that the campaign is conspiring with Moscow.
July 22. Shortly before the Democratic convention begins, WikiLeaks starts releasing more emails stolen from the DNC.
July. After receiving a tip from the Australian diplomat apparently spurred by WikiLeaks’ release of material stolen from the DNC, the FBI begins a counterintelligence investigation into Russian meddling, including any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.
Sep. 21. Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, is accused of sexually explicit online interactions with a minor.
Sep. 23. Yahoo News reports that Page met with the high-ranking Russians in July. This appears to have been conveyed to the outlet by Steele, according to the memo declassified in February 2018.
Sep. 26. In a conversation with The Post’s Josh Rogin, Page says he is taking leave of the Trump campaign.
Late September or early October. Steele again meets with an FBI contact in Rome.
Early October. FBI agents investigating the Weiner allegations find emails on one of Weiner’s computers that were sent using Clinton‘s private server to and from Huma Abedin.
Oct. 7. The government issues an unusual warning about attempts by Russian actors to influence the election.
That same day, WikiLeaks begins releasing emails stolen from the email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Oct 22. The FBI obtains a warrant to surveil Page. The secret warrant is authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act, or FISA.
Oct. 23. Trump tweets out a Wall Street Journal article about the contributions that McCabe‘s wife received.
McCabe becomes a fixture in Trump‘s stump speeches about the corruption of Washington.
Oct. 28. Comey informs Congress about the discovery of the new emails and indicates that they are being assessed to determine if they include classified information or are otherwise pertinent to the email server investigation.
Oct. 31. The New York Times reports that the FBI doesn’t see a clear link to Russia. According to later testimony from Fusion GPS‘s Simpson, this alarms Steele and prompts him to cut off contact with the Bureau. There had reportedly been some discussion about the FBI paying Steele for his research, which didn’t come to fruition, though the Bureau did reimburse Steele for some of his expenses.
Nov. 6. Comey announces that the new emails don’t change the FBI’s position on charges against Clinton.
Nov. 8. Trump wins the presidential election.
Dec. 13. Steele writes the last of the dossier’s reports, dealing with an alleged trip to Prague by Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen to contact Russian actors. Cohen denies that he took such a trip.
Jan. 6. Comey, along with other intelligence officials, travel to Trump Tower to brief Trump on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Comey briefs Trump on the dossier.
Jan. 20. Trump is inaugurated as president.
Jan. 24. National security adviser Michael Flynn is interviewed by the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador the previous month.
Jan. 25. The House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), announces its intent to investigate Russian meddling and any connections to political campaigns.
Jan. 26. The Trump White House learns that Flynn provided information to the FBI that conflicts with what Vice President Pence was saying publicly.
Jan. 27. Trump invites Comey to dinner at the White House. Comey later testifies under oath that Trump asked him for his loyalty during that meeting.
Feb. 8. Jeff Sessions is confirmed as attorney general.
Feb. 14. At another meeting in the White House, Trump indirectly asks Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, who had resigned the previous day.
March 2. After it is revealed that he had provided inaccurate information about his contacts with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing, Sessions recuses himself from anything involving the Russia investigation.
March 4. Trump, spurred by a Breitbart report, alleges on Twitter that the administration of Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower prior to the election.
March 20. The House Intelligence Committee holds a hearing in which it takes testimony from Comey and the head of the National Security Agency. It is at this hearing that Comey publicly reveals the existence of the investigation into meddling and Trump’s campaign.
During the hearing, Comey also denies that Trump was the focus of wiretapping.
March 21. Nunes is invited to the White House complex to view information about surveillance of people associated with Trump‘s campaign. At least some of the intelligence was collected by surveilling foreign agents, which would normally mean that Americans whose communications were “incidentally” collected — meaning they were not the targets of the surveillance — would not be identified. (There are restrictions on surveillance of American citizens that do not apply to foreign individuals.) Nunes is shown “unmasked” intelligence — meaning that this anonymity has been removed. Some of the intelligence appears to involve Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Nunes‘s visit is not revealed until several days later.
March 22. Nunes holds a news conference accusing the Obama administration of unmasking the names of Trump transition team members even though the intelligence is not related to the Russia investigation. He does not indicate how he learned about this unmasking — a term that becomes central to Trump‘s defense of his tweets about having been wiretapped.
April 6. Nunes recuses himself from the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation after the House Ethics Committee announces that it is investigating whether he made an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
April 25. Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland since his appointment under George W. Bush, is confirmed as deputy attorney general following a nomination from Trump. With Sessions’s recusal, this effectively puts Rosenstein in charge of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
May 9. Trump fires Comey, citing as his rationale a report from Rosenstein criticizing Comey‘s handling of the investigation into Clinton‘s email server. (Trump later tells NBC’s Lester Holt that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” as he contemplated axing Comey.) With Comey out, McCabe becomes the acting director of the FBI.
May 10. Trump reportedly calls McCabe to chastise him for allowing Comey to return to D.C. on an FBI-owned plane after being fired.
May 12. Apparently responding to a Times story detailing Trump‘s request for loyalty from Comey, Trump tweets out a threat.
This inspires Comey to ask a friend to leak information to the Times about Trump‘s request to let the Flynn investigation go. That story, implying an attempt to obstruct the investigation, runs on May 16. (Trump later accuses Comey of leaking classified information, an allegation that is not supported by the available evidence.)
May 17. Rosenstein, as acting lead on Russia following Sessions’s recusal, appoints Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling and any links to the Trump campaign. Strzok and Lisa Page are both included on Mueller‘s team.
July. Mueller learns about the Strzok-Page texts. Page has already left his team; Strzok is reassigned.
Aug. 1. Christopher A. Wray is confirmed as director of the FBI.
Aug. 22. Fusion GPS‘s Simpson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sep. 1. Nunes, despite his recusal, sends a letter on behalf of the House Intelligence Committee to Sessions claiming that the Department of Justice has been slow to respond to subpoena requests.
Oct. 24. The Post reports that the Steele dossier was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
Oct. 30. Mueller‘s team charges Trump‘s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, with conspiracy and money laundering. The team also reveals that Papadopoulos has admitted lying to the FBI and has apparently been cooperating with the investigation.
Dec. 1. In documents released by Mueller‘s team, Flynn admits lying to the FBI.
Dec. 7. Nunes is cleared of wrongdoing by the Ethics Committee on charges that he revealed classified information. This was the predicate for his recusal from the Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.
Jan. 4. In a letter to Rosenstein, Nunes suggests that his committee is expanding its investigation to include the Department of Justice’s handling of the Russia investigation itself.
Jan. 9. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) releases the transcript of Simpson’s Senate testimony.
Mid-January. Staffers for Nunes compile a four-page document summarizing classified information to argue that the FBI abused its power in its investigation of Trump‘s campaign. While the document is not public, it appears to argue that the FISA warrant issued for Page relied on information compiled by Steele, implying that the warrant should not have been issued and, apparently, that the process for requesting it was tainted by politics.
Democrats who have seen the memo argue that the information is cherry-picked and reliant on classified information to which people would not be privy even if the memo itself were declassified. The central argument also ignores the other layers of oversight that apply to FISA warrants, including the need for approval by a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Jan. 18. Republicans and their allies — particularly in the media — rally around the memo, arguing that it should be released to the public. In a broadcast on the evening of Jan. 18, Fox News’s Sean Hannity tells Mueller that his “witch hunt is now over,” apparently because of the memo, which is still classified and which Hannity should therefore not have seen.
Among those interested in releasing the memo is Trump.
Jan. 23. Axios reports that Sessions, at Trump‘s behest, had been pressuring FBI Director Wray to fire McCabe. In response, Wray reportedly threatened to quit.
Jan. 24. The Justice Department, which was not allowed to view the memo, warns the House Intelligence Committee that releasing it without allowing the FBI and Justice to review its contents would be “extraordinarily reckless,” risking the sources and methods used to collect the information underlying the information it contains.
Jan. 28. Wray is allowed to review the memo. Politico reports that Wray was told he could flag any concerns. Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) tells the outlet that Wray informed him that his concerns about the release of the memo were not entirely addressed.
Jan. 29. McCabe leaves his position as deputy director of the FBI effective immediately. Wray suggests that McCabe‘s early departure (he was scheduled to retire later this year) was in part a function of an upcoming inspector general’s report about the Clinton email investigation.
The Times reports that Trump’s interest in the memo may stem in part from his belief that it casts Rosenstein in a negative light, since Rosenstein approved a request to renew the Page warrant after taking office last year. Rosenstein, as lead on the Russia investigation, is the only person directly authorized to fire Mueller.
Feb. 2. The memo is released.