The Grassley letter and the Nunes memo both deal with the same thing: The FBI’s surveillance of former Donald Trump adviser Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the role of a controversial dossier on links between Trump and the Russian government compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. But while the Nunes memo has largely been greeted with justified ridicule, the Grassley letter makes a more direct and serious case that the FISA warrant targeting Page may have been issued on insufficient grounds—while at the same time undermining key aspects of Nunes’ argument.
Grassley’s letter pokes holes in the one truly significant claim made in the Nunes memo: That the FBI improperly concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the Steele dossier was part of opposition research underwritten by the Democratic National Committee. Grassley’s letter confirms the accuracy of the counter almost immediately offered by intelligence committee Democrats: That the application did, in fact, disclose that the dossier’s funders were politically motivated.
More than that, it makes clear that not specifically naming the DNC was not some aberrant omission, but the result of the common intelligence practice of obfuscating the identities of people who aren’t under suspicion. Glenn Simpson of the research firm Fusion GPS, who directly hired Steele, is referenced only as an “identified U.S. person.” Even Steele himself does not appear to have been named: The ambiguous pronoun “his/her” is used to avoid specifying a gender for the dossier’s author. The judges who reviewed the application almost certainly would have recognized Page as an adviser to Trump and inferred that opposition research concerning him was likely funded by Democrats—and could easily have asked if they thought it was necessary to clarify.
But when it comes to the broader question of whether the FISA wiretap order on Page was adequately grounded in evidence, the Grassley letter provides more serious grounds for doubt, directly making several key claims that the Nunes memo only insinuates. Critically, Grassley and Graham assert that the Steele dossier formed the “bulk” of the FISA application, and as important, that the application “appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page,” and that the FBI “relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims.”