In the giant Jenga tower that is the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — and any links to the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump — many supporters of Trump see the release of a memo summarizing the evolution of a surveillance warrant for a Trump campaign adviser as the block that will make the whole thing topple.
The memo deals with the genesis of an application for a warrant to surveil Carter Page, named to Trump’s foreign policy advisory team in March 2016. That application was based in part on information compiled by a former British intelligence officer who, the memo alleges, was deeply biased against Trump. Therefore the warrant was invalid, the extended argument goes and, therefore, much of the investigation into Trump is tainted.
Below, we’ve created a timeline of what the memo itself covers (highlighted) augmented with relevant other factors. But we’ve also gone one step further, including additional context to what the memo suggests. [Bolded text] can be clicked to show additional information.
Early 2016. Two FBI employees, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, are having an affair. Over the course of the election, they share text messages related to the candidates, including making disparaging comments about then-candidate Donald Trump.
April 26. George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, is told by a Russia-linked contact that the Russians have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails. He relays this to an Australian diplomat shortly afterward.
June 20. Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, [working for a firm called Fusion GPS], begins writing reports assessing Donald Trump’s relationship to business interests in Russia.
working for a firm called Fusion GPS: Unmentioned in the memo is that Fusion GPS’s research into Trump began at the behest of a conservative media outlet, Free Beacon. The memo notes that Steele “was a longtime FBI source,” suggesting some existing credibility within the bureau.
Steele’s [work is funded] by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton through the law firm Perkins Coie.
work is funded: It’s not clear if Steele knows who is funding his research beyond the law firm.
July 7. Carter Page, another foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, travels to Moscow to give a lecture.
July 19. Steele writes a report about the trip. According to a Steele source, Page met with the chief executive of the energy firm Rosneft and an official from the Kremlin.
Late July. Strzok launches a counterintelligence investigation targeting the Trump campaign [based on information] about Papadopoulos.
based on information: That information, the New York Times reported last year, is that the Australian government informed the FBI that Papadopoulos knew about the emails before they were leaked shortly before the start of the Democratic National Convention on July 25.
September. At some point this month, Steele spoke with a Justice Department official named Bruce Ohr, whose wife worked for Fusion GPS. Steele told Ohr that he “was desperate that Donald Trump [not get elected] and was passionate about him not, being president.”
not get elected: Context is missing from this quote. In testimony before the Senate, Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson indicated that Steele was alarmed about the relationship between Trump and Russia from the outset, meaning that his opposition to Trump’s election might be less about Trump than about what he believed he’d learned about Trump’s relationships.
Sept. 23. Yahoo News reports that Page met with officials from Rosneft and the Kremlin the previous July. This story derives from what Steele told the reporter himself, according to the memo. Steele [met with several other media outlets] as well.
met with several other media outlets: In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson confirmed that Steele had met with a number of outlets in late September. They included the Times, The Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and ABC News.
At some point, the memo states, Perkins Coie hosts a meeting with Steele and Fusion GPS where media outreach is discussed.
Sept. 26. In an interview with The Post, Page says he’s taking leave from the campaign.
Oct. 18. Steele files another report, alleging that Page offered to trade the lifting of sanctions against Russia in exchange for a stake in Rosneft.
Oct. 21. The FBI applies for and receives a warrant to surveil Page. The warrant, lasting 90 days, is [renewed three times]. The warrant is signed three times by James B. Comey and once by deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, who was acting director after Comey was fired in May. The warrants were signed by deputy attorneys general Sally Yates, Dana Boente and Rod J. Rosenstein.
renewed three times: The renewals would have been on or around Jan. 19, April 19 and July 18, 2017.
Central to the memo is the argument that the warrant application was flawed from the outset.
• The initial warrant application [didn’t disclose] the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign or any party or campaign funding for Steele’s information.
didn’t disclose: The memo writes that “the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior and FBI officials” — but it’s not clear if the link to Clinton was known. It’s also not the case, as the blog Lawfare noted this week, that this would necessarily have doomed the application.
What’s more, the Times reports that the warrant application did note that the Steele report was “politically motivated” (the Times’ wording), though not that it was funded by the DNC or Clinton campaigns.
• The application “cited extensively” the Yahoo News article and “incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News.”
• The application didn’t include Steele’s comments to Ohr or Ohr’s wife’s relationship to the firm.
• The information in the dossier had only been [“minimally corroborated”] before it was included in the application. Comey later described the dossier as [“salacious and unverified."]
“minimally corroborated”: The extent to which material in the dossier was corroborated at all isn’t clear.
“salacious and unverified”: RedState notes that this isn’t what Comey said. He testified that he’d briefed Trump in January 2017 on “unverified and salacious parts” of the dossier.
• McCabe testified before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] without the Steele dossier information.”
[Oct. 31.] Mother Jones magazine reports on the existence of the dossier in a late-evening article.
Oct 31: The memo misdates this article as having been published on Oct. 30.
This story allegedly spurred the FBI to end its relationship with Steele as informing the media about his relationship with the FBI was a serious violation. (The memo notes that Steele should have been cut off for his media contacts in September but he “improperly concealed from and lied to the FBI” about that outreach.)
The same day, [The Times] reports that the FBI “saw no clear link to Russia” in its investigations into the Trump campaign.
The Times: Simpson’s testimony to the Senate committee suggested that this article spurred Steele to cut off contact with the FBI, out of concern that the bureau was “being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people.” It’s not clear, then, how the timeline worked. Did Steele see the Times story and decide he was done with the FBI, then talking to Mother Jones about what he knew? Or did the FBI react to what it saw in Mother Jones, as the memo alleges?
This article was updated with the date confusion regarding the news articles.