Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told Sean Hannity on Monday night that it is “absolutely embarrassing” that “the mainstream media is totally uninterested” in the allegation of FBI misconduct contained in Nunes's memo, released on Friday.
“Totally uninterested” is rather hyperbolic, considering the extensive coverage the document has received, but many journalists do indeed wonder whether the memo is much more than an incomplete, politically motivated account.
One reason for skepticism is that Nunes's central claim — the FBI improperly obtained a warrant to spy on Donald Trump's presidential campaign — contradicts previous assertions by Trump and his communications team that the target of the warrant, Carter Page, was not really a member of the campaign.
Which is it? If Page was not part of Trump's team, then the FBI did not get a warrant to spy on Trump's team, improperly or otherwise. If the FBI did get a warrant to spy on Trump's team, then Page must have been part of Trump's team, contrary to earlier denials.
When Yahoo News reported in September 2016 that the FBI was probing Page's Russian connections, Trump campaign communications director Jason Miller told the Hill that Page had “never been a part of our campaign, period.”
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN at the time that Page is “certainly not part of the campaign I’m running.”
At a news conference in January 2017, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know.”
“I don't think I've ever spoken to him,” President Trump said the next month. “I don't think I've ever met him.”
Trump's original campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said on Fox News last March that he had “never met Carter Page. To the best of my knowledge, the president of the United States has never met Carter Page. Carter Page is a person who's going out and telling everybody that he was part of the campaign; he had no formal role in the campaign.”
A year earlier, during a March 2016 interview with The Washington Post editorial board, Trump had named Page as one of his foreign policy advisers.
The GOP line on Page has shifted dramatically. First, he was on the team. Then, when he appeared to become a liability, he was never on the team. Now he is back on the team because, it appears, Republicans view the warrant to surveil him as evidence that pro-Democrat bias at the FBI led to unjust spying on the Trump campaign.
Nunes said on Hannity's Fox News show Monday night that it is “very, very dangerous to take political dirt that was paid for by the Hillary [Clinton] campaign” — i.e. the Christopher Steele dossier — “and use it against your political opponents — to have the FBI use it and open up an investigation.”
Nunes's statement is true, on its face, but intelligence experts question whether he is overstating the role the dossier played in obtaining a warrant. Former FBI agent Asha Rangappa recently explained on the PostEverything blog the extensive process that the agency would have had to go through.
Faith in Nunes's version of events is further undermined by Republicans' inability to get one simple fact straight: Was Page part of Trump's campaign or not? The answer seems to change, as a matter of political convenience.