Who is Carter Page? Fortunately not me
I had not yet had my first cup of coffee on Sunday morning. Suddenly, I was jerked alert by the sound of a C-SPAN radio discussion of whether I, "Clarence Page," might be indicted.
As it turned out, the talk show host had slipped. He meant to say "Carter Page" but accidentally said my name instead.
At least I wasn't accidentally called "Clarence Thomas," which also has happened.
But I'd rather be mistaken for the Supreme Court Justice these days than for Carter Page, a key figure at the center of the Nunes memorandum, the contentious four-page document written by aides to Rep. Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
Approved for release in a party-line vote, the document claims that the FBI and Justice Department abused their powers to wiretap Page, who candidate Trump had identified in a meeting with Washington Post editors as one of his foreign policy advisers.
Last weekend, Trump claimed incorrectly that the memo "totally vindicates" him in the continuing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Everyone who read the underlying classified application for a warrant to surveil Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) calls the memo incomplete and out of context.
Nunes, a strong supporter of President Trump, produced a highly partisan document that makes a mockery of his own committee's duty to provide oversight. It mostly offers support to the president's efforts to delegitimize Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and to demonize Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Yet, even as a Democrat-produced rebuttal approved unanimously by the Committee awaits President Trump's release, the supposed vindication Trump sought in the Nunes memo falls flat.
The Nunes memo mostly makes three arguments:
One, that the Steele dossier -- a collection of reports much vilified by the right and filed by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele -- as a "biased" document out to "get" President Trump.
Two, that FBI and Justice Department officials knew of that bias but didn't disclose it in using the Steele dossier to obtain their FISA warrant to spy on Page.
Three, that reliance on the Steele dossier violated Page's rights and corrupted the FBI's entire investigation of the Trump campaign in the fashion of what lawyers call the "fruit of a poisonous tree."
But alas, the Nunes memo fails to support its own case.
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One, it begins with a FISA application dated Oct. 21, 2016, less than 20 days before the election and hardly enough time to produce much evidence or influence.
Two, the recent surveillance of Page also began about a month after Page officially left the Trump campaign.
And three, we know from news reports that Page had already been under surveillance as many as three years earlier, when federal agents began to suspect Russian operatives were trying to recruit Page -- whom the Russians thought was "an idiot," according to reports of court documents.
FISA warrants must be reauthorized every 90 days and FBI agents have to demonstrate each time that the surveillance has been fruitful. Since the Page warrant was renewed three times, as many as three judges found enough reason to keep the surveillance going, which further waters down the notion of a poisonous tree of prosecution.
And, contrary to the Nunes memo's suggestions, the Steele dossier, which has been controversial but largely corroborated in its less salacious parts, was only part of the impetus for seeking the warrant, not the trigger for the entire investigation.
This much -- and more -- we know even without the rebuttal memo written by Democrats and approved unanimously by the committee before sending it to President Trump for approval of its release. The Nunes document falls far short of proving misconduct by the FBI or the Department of Justice.
But it does show the bizarre lengths to which Nunes and other congressional Republicans will go to support their party's president, even at the cost of providing the proper oversight that the voters trust them to provide.
Fortunately, we do see some conscientious Republicans stepping forward to declare when enough is enough of Trump's excesses. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, one of the Republican authors of the memo, disputed Trump's claim that it vindicates him. "I actually don't think it has any impact on the Russia probe," said Gowdy on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Perhaps it is only coincidental that Gowdy has announced he is not running for re-election to Congress, but I doubt it. As famous Democrat John F. Kennedy is said to have said, "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much." That's a question that a lot of Republicans should be raising these days.
(E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.)(c) 2018 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.