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The Nunes Memo Explained

February 12, 2018

The Nunes Memo Explained


The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to release a memo on Feb. 2, alleging that the FBI misused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) when spying on former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page shortly before the 2016 election. The memo has become known mainly as the “Nunes memo,” named after its author, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA).


Trump himself, as well as many Republicans both in Congress and in the media, have trumpeted the memo as proof that the FBI was unfairly biased towards Trump and his campaign for president. Trump said, through a tweet, that the memo “vindicates” him from any fault in the Russian probe.



The memo centers around the FBI’s requests for multiple warrants to surveil Page during the last few months of the 2016 presidential election. According to the memo, the FBI cited the now-infamous Steele dossier as evidence in one of these applications, which they filed along with the DOJ in October 2016. The crux of the memo’s argument is that not only did the application cite the Steele dossier, which was partly paid for by the Clinton campaign, but that the application didn’t disclose that the Clinton campaign had helped pay for the dossier.


This memo ignores multiple important facts, including that by the time the application in question was filed by the FBI and DOJ, Page did not work for the Trump campaign anymore. Therefore, the surveillance of Page would not have negatively interfered  in the Trump campaign. Additionally, Nunes has admitted that he has not personally read the application itself. Perhaps most important, though, is that even many other Republicans have pointed out that Trump’s claim that the memo vindicates him in the Russia investigation is wrong. In fact, this memo has almost nothing to do with the Russia investigation.


To counteract the Nunes memo Democrats announced they wrote a rebuttal memo of their own. On February 5, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Democrats’ memo, but on February 9, Trump announced that he would block its release to ensure that it was properly declassified. He does, however, reportedly intend to declassify and release this memo soon. Nunes himself is reported to want the memo to be released, ostensibly because of how “ridiculous” its contents are.


The public will have to await the possible release of the Democratic memo to make sense of both sides of the story on the Page issue. If the Democratic memo is not released,  we will have to wait till Robert Muller is ready to announce his findings on the Russian investigation to make sense of the array of information surrounding the 2016 election.


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