On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued an earthshaking ruling with serious consequences for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Days later, not one mainstream news media outlet has reported it.
The FBI will be required to respond and publicly produce documents verifying the efforts they made to check the accuracy of Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier. After relying on technicalities and legal loopholes to sidestep the issue, the FBI has no choice except to turn over exactly what they have to the public, thanks to President Donald Trump’s briefing on the subject and Mehta blasting the position that ‘defies logic.’
“Unless the court is to believe that the FBI undertook these efforts without creating any memoranda or other papers containing assessments about Steele’s reporting and did not gather files for that purpose – a wholly implausible proposition – the Nunes and Schiff Memos are ‘tantamount to an acknowledgement that the [FBI] has documents on [those subjects],’” Judge Mehta wrote.
Back in January, Judge Mehta was forced to agree with the government, ruling against a Freedom of Information Act request brought by the James Madison Project. At the time there was no evidence proving the requested documents existed.
“But then the ground shifted,” Mehta concedes. Once President Trump declassified a pair of House memos, one written by Devin Nunes (R-Ca.), the other a rebuttal by Adam Schiff (D-Ca.), “there is now in the public domain meaningful information about how the FBI acquired the Dossier and how the agency used it to investigate Russian meddling.”
The declassified memos confirm the existence of a disputed “two-page synopsis” which the FBI tried to say they didn’t have. They claimed the “synopsis” was not the same “summary” Plaintiffs were asking for.
“That position defies logic,” Judge Mehta wrote, “It is simply not plausible to believe that, to whatever extent the FBI has made efforts to verify Steele’s reporting, some portion of that work has not been devoted to allegations that made their way into the synopsis.”
“After all,” a political analyst at Zero Hedge explains, “if the reporting was important enough to brief the President-elect, then surely the FBI thought enough of those key charges to attempt to verify their accuracy.”
Political insiders are convinced the feds don’t have much. The New York Times previously reported that “if Mr. Steele could get solid corroboration of his reports, the F.B.I. would pay him $50,000 for his efforts, according to two people familiar with the offer. Ultimately, he was not paid.”
BuzzFeed has been trying to verify Steele’s allegations as a defense to a slander suit arising from the dossier material they printed. BuzzFeed is still digging.
The James Madison Project submitted an FOIA request seeking the two-page “synopsis,” as well as “final determinations regarding the accuracy (or lack thereof) of any of the individual factual claims listed in the two-page synopsis” and “investigative files relied upon in reaching” those final determinations.
The FBI refused to admit they even existed, even though co-defendants in the intelligence community “admitted the existence and their possession of the ‘two-page synopsis’” but claimed other exemptions to withhold it.
The judge pointed out in his ruling that “the FBI relied in part on portions of the Dossier’s contents to secure a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (‘FISA’) warrant as to Carter Page, a former campaign advisor to then-candidate Trump.”
Also, he adds, “in parallel with pursuing the Page FISA warrant, the FBI was undertaking efforts to corroborate the allegations contained within the Dossier.; and, critically for this case, that ‘in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier.’”
The “Schiff Memo,” the ruling states, “revealed, among other things, that Steele shared his ‘reporting… with an FBI agent… through the end of October 2016’; and, importantly for this case, that ‘[t]he FBI has undertaken a rigorous process to vet allegations from Steele’s reporting.’”
The James Madison Project argued that both of the memos “disclose the FBI’s efforts to verify or refute the accuracy of the Dossier’s allegations,” and the Nunes Memo “expressly mentions ‘a source validation report’ conducted by an independent unit with [the] FBI [that] assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated.”
After discussion, the judge writes, “these parallels lead the court to conclude that the ‘synopsis’ sought by Plaintiffs is, in fact, the ‘summary’ acknowledged by the Nunes Memo” and “The Nunes Memo expressly acknowledges the existence of ‘a source validation report.’”
The Schiff Memo “provides even more information about the FBI’s efforts. It explains that ‘Steele’s information about [Carter] Page was consistent with the FBI’s assessment of Russian intelligence efforts to recruit him and his connections to Russian persons of interest.”
Schiff also claims that “the FBI had reached a sufficient level of confidence in Steele’s reporting about Carter Page’s alleged coordination with Russian officials to include that information in a FISA warrant application.”
According to the political analyst, “whatever documents the FBI may be forced to cough up regarding their attempts to verify the Dossier could prove highly embarrassing for the agency.”
“What’s more,” they report, “forcing the FBI to prove they had an empty hand will likely embolden calls to disband the special counsel investigation – as the agency’s mercenary and politicized approach to ‘investigations’ will be laid all the more bare for the world to see.”
They also point out that the Department of Justice deserves the benefit of some doubt. “Then again, who knows, maybe the FBI verified everything in the dossier and it simply hasn’t leaked.”