The White House looks set to release the House Intelligence Committee memo on 2016 government surveillance abuses, which means the attacks on the document by Democrats, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the media are going to get wilder. To help navigate through the spin, here’s a handy guide for what to look for, and what to ignore:
• Rationale. Did the FBI have cause to open a full-blown counterintelligence probe into an active presidential campaign? That’s a breathtakingly consequential and unprecedented action and surely could not be justified without much more than an overheard drunken conversation or an unsourced dossier. What hard evidence did the FBI have?
• Tools and evidence. Government possesses few counterintelligence tools more powerful or frightening than the ability to spy on American citizens. If the FBI obtained permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Trump aide Carter Page based on information from the Christopher Steele dossier, that in itself is a monumental scandal. It means the FBI used a document commissioned by one presidential campaign as a justification to spy on another. Ignore any arguments that the dossier was not a “basis” for the warrant or only used “in part.” If the FBI had to use it in its application, it means it didn’t have enough other evidence to justify surveillance.
Look to see what else the FBI presented to the court as a justification for monitoring, and whether it was manufactured. Mr. Steele and his client, Fusion GPS, ginned up breathless news stories about the dossier’s unverified accusations in September 2016 in order to influence the election. The FBI sometimes presents news articles to the court, but primarily for corroboration of other facts. If the FBI used the conspiracy stories Mr. Steele was spinning as actual justification—evidence—to the court, that’s out of bounds.