In the next few days, we could soon all be reading a declassified counterargument to the Republicans' memo alleging FBI bias in the investigation into possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election.
After originally voting along party lines last week to keep it secret, the House Intelligence Committee unanimously voted Monday to release the Democrats' rebuttal to the GOP memo. Democrats like Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) told reporters that this memo “will help inform the public of the many distortions and inaccuracies” in the GOP one.
They can't say more until President Trump agrees to approve its release. (It's an open question whether he will.)
But if we do get to see the memo, University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said to expect it to be almost singularly focused on building back the FBI's credibility as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues his Russia investigation.
“The FBI has been painted as somehow selectively using all this material in a way that shows their prejudice against the president,” Tobias said. “Once their actions are set in context, it will make a lot more sense and bolster the FBI's legitimacy.”
How could Democrats accomplish that? Here are the claims we could reasonably expect to see addressed in the memo, based on public Democratic rebuttals over the past few days.
Whether a Democratic-funded dossier was “essential” to the FISA application to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page: The GOP memo says that the No. 2 at the FBI at the time, Andrew McCabe, told Congress that a dossier written by an ex-British spy alleging Trump-Russia collusion was essential to getting court approval to spy on Page.
Democrats have disputed Republicans' characterization of what McCabe said. But for now, we have to take both sides at their word because McCabe talked to Congress behind closed doors about the role of the dossier.
What McCabe said is a central point of the Republicans' memo that could make or break it. If Democrats have something that could undermine Republicans' argument, it's very likely they will share it in their rebuttal.
How long Page had been a person of interest to the FBI: Page has been a person of interest to the FBI since 2013. That's according to court documents cited by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, in his analysis of the GOP's memo. And it's backed up by reporting, including that Page once boasted he was an “informal adviser” to the Kremlin, and the FBI interviewed him after Russian spies tried to recruit him. That means the FBI knew about Page's Russian contacts years before he joined the Trump campaign.
If Democrats find a way to underscore this point, they can undermine the Republicans' central argument that the FBI erred when it spied on Page by relying on a dossier published three years later, in 2016.
How long the FBI's Russia investigation had been going on before the dossier was published: Here, the Republicans' own memo confirms that the probe was set in motion after former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos bragged to Australian diplomats that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That conversation came to the FBI's attention in July, three months before the dossier was published.
Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, a sign legal experts say that the FBI is using him to get more information.
Whether the FBI shared with the secret federal court that some political entity had paid for the research of ex-spy Christopher Steele: The GOP memo alleges that the FBI didn't reveal that the dossier had been funded by Democrats to a federal court when getting approval to spy on Page.
But reporting has since undermined that, showing that a footnote in the FISA application does mention that a political entity was connected to the dossier, a fact the author of the GOP memo, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has since conceded.
Whether Steele, who put together the dossier, even knew his research was funded by Democrats: Nadler, in his response to the memo, floated the notion that Steele wasn't aware of which party was paying his employer, Fusion GPS.
“We have no idea if Christopher Steele even knew the source of his funding when Fusion GPS first hired him to research Donald Trump’s connections to the Russian government,” he said.
If that's true, expect Democrats to find a way to back it up, since it reinforces the notion that Steele was a reliable source.
How little Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had to do with authorizing the Page application: Rosenstein's name is mentioned twice in the GOP memo, but the implication is there: He approved at least one FISA application on Page. And the memo leaves open the possibility that Rosenstein might have known of Steele's bias around that time.
Given how Trump has talked privately, and hinted publicly, that he'd like to use this memo as a basis to fire Rosenstein, who set up the special counsel investigation now zeroing in on the president, it's possible Democrats will try to emphasize how little Rosenstein had to do with the Page spy warrant. Rosenstein was just one in a dozen-ish officials and layers of security required to sign off on the surveillance of a U.S. citizen, and he wasn't even in his current job when the original spy warrant was approved.