On Devin Nunes

by Travis

On March 22, 2017, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes went to the microphones to discuss his recent conversations with President Trump regarding the “incidental collection” of communications of Trump Transition Team members and associates. At that time, Trump had been spreading a falsehood that Trump Tower had been wiretapped by the Obama Administration – a claim he later back-tracked – and he spun the information as a validation of that claim. Oddly, the surveillance information Nunes conveyed to the President had been brought to him by the White House.

Nunes officially stated that “none of this surveillance was related to Russia or any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team,” and that “additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.” He also stated that in this surveillance, the intelligence community captured the President’s personal communications.

In doing so, Nunes revealed that more than one person on Trump’s transition team were picked up communicating with foreign surveillance targets.

Days later, Nunes – a Trump Transition Team member himself – apologized to his committee for not discussing the information with them first and went on to temporarily recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

This story of incidental collection got lost in the news cycle, but there are still unanswered questions:

  1. How were the communications of Trump Transition team members incidentally collected?
  2. Which Transition team members were incidentally collected?
  3. Who was talking to whom to put them in a position to get collected?
  4. How did they get the President’s personal communications?

Nunes eventually “ghost-wrote” the Nunes Memo released to the public on 2 February 2018, as he was either unwilling or not allowed to read the underlying intelligence upon which the Memo was based.

The Nunes Memo focused on the 21 October 2016 FISA Court application to surveil Carter Page – which subsequently rendered three renewals – it quietly admits the FBI Investigation kicked off because of Papadapoulos on 31 July 2016 in a broad investigation that was dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” by FBI agents.

By September 2016, the FBI had opened sub-inquiries on at least four Trump team campaign members: Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, and Carter Page.

We know from the indictment of Mike Flynn that his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were picked up likely under FISA Section 702 – but Flynn is just one Transition team member. Nunes indicated multiple members were surveilled, and his memo did not focus on Flynn.

It also appears from his court filing that Papadopoulos’ communications were incidentally collected under FISA Section 702. And while it’s true that the Nunes Memo mentions Papadopoulos in a footnote, unless Nunes was lying when he said “none of the the surveillance was related to Russia,” those communications would not have rendered the incidental collection he reviewed.

Page’s FISA Court application subsequently rendered three 90-day renewals and pages of relevant information that remain redacted. It wasn’t his first time under the FBI’s microscope.

Who is Carter Page?

I find it curious that Nunes in his memo went to great lengths to defend Carter Page and admonish the FBI‘s case to surveil him via FISA warrant, given his suspect background.

Carter Page graduated in the top 10% of his class from the U.S. Naval Academy, went on to get a Masters in Security Studies from Georgetown, was a Navy Intelligence Officer at the UN, got an MBA from New York University, then became a Vice President at Merrill Lynch, got a PhD from the University of London, and reportedly made millions in the Russian oil business.

In 2013, the FBI had a FISA warrant opened because “there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of Russia.” FBI intercepts later revealed that the SVR was attempting to recruit him. Page was questioned by the FBI in June 2013 and “assisted the prosecutors in their case against Evgeny Buryakov, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to act in the United States as an unregistered agent of Russian intelligence.”

In 2014, a FISA warrant was obtained against Page, and in 2015, charges were brought against the SVR agent who tried to recruit him.

In March 2016 – the same month he joined the Trump campaign – the FBI again questioned Page regarding his contacts with Russian intelligence.

In early July 2016, Page traveled to Moscow while he was a Trump campaign official to give a commencement speech at the New Economic School in Moscow. The trip that was approved by the campaign. Page emailed fellow Trump aides during the trip, including J.D. Gordon, describing “a private conversation” with a senior Russian official who spoke favorably of the Republican candidate, according to records released late Monday by congressional investigators. Page also wrote that he had been provided “incredible insights and outreach” by Russian lawmakers and “senior members” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration during the trip.

It is at this point in the timeline where the Steele Dossier is relevant, as Carter Page is a prominent figure in Steele’s memos dated 19 July and 18 October 2016.

According to Steele’s 19 July memo, Sechin raised the topic of U.S. sanctions on Russia (on either July 7 or 8) saying that if a future Trump administration dropped “Ukraine-related sanctions,” there could be an “associated move” in the area of “bilateral energy co-operation.” Steele says that Page’s reaction to this offer was positive, adding that Page was “generally non-committal in response.”

Steele wrote that, according to an associate, Sechin offered Page “the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatized) stake in Rosneft in return” for lifting the Magnitsky Act economic sanctions that had been imposed on Russia in 2012. Any brokerage fee would be substantial, in the region of tens and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars. Steele says Page “expressed interest” and confirmed that were Trump to become US president, “then sanctions on Russia would be lifted” on Trump’s “full authority.”

The FBI first received the Steele Memos in Mid-September. In October 2016, the FBI found it reasonable to surveil Page again, given his trip to Moscow in July 2016 and his meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Cleveland in August 2016.

In November 2017, Page testified to Nunes’ Intelligence Committee that after delivering his speech in July 2016, he spoke briefly with one of the people in attendance, Arkady Dvorkovich, a Deputy Prime Minister in Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet, contradicting his previous statements that he did not speak to anyone connected with the Russian government.

In addition, while Page denied a meeting with Sechin as alleged in the Trump–Russia dossier, he did say he met with Andrey Baranov, Rosneft’s head of investor relations, who works for Sechin.

Page testified that he did not “directly” express support for lifting the sanctions during the meeting with Baranov, but that he might have mentioned the proposed Rosneft transaction.

Page had previously denied meeting with Rosneft officials in Moscow in July – until he was under oath. Why did Page lie to the public if this meeting was innocuous?

In October 2017, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr stated “Though we have been incredibly enlightened at our ability to rebuild backwards the Steele dossier up to a certain date, getting past that point has been somewhat impossible. I say this because I don’t think we’re going to find any intelligence products that unlocked that key to pre-June 2016.”

This would include Steele’s allegations about Carter Page’s trips to Moscow.

My Speculations

Congressman Nunes was so concerned by the unmasking of targets captured in Carter Page’s FISA warrant that he risked everything in a “midnight run” to the White House, where he received the transcripts of Page’s conversations and the “Incidental Collection” of Trump Transition Team members captured in those transcripts.

I speculate that’s because Nunes recognized himself in those intercepts.

Nunes’ duties on the Trump Transition Team included advising Trump “on the appointment of his Cabinet members.” The day after the Rosneft deal was unveiled, Carter Page returned to Moscow, and at a Sputnik event on 12 December 2016, Page announced that Tillerson was going to be the next Secretary of State – the day before Trump announced that to the rest of the world. (See Page’s comments 14 minutes into his speech. Also of interest: 27 minutes into his speech, Carter Page admits “I did have the opportunity to meet with an executive at Rosneft” and, unprompted, discusses talks about the 19.5% sale to Glencore. He says “unfortunately, United States actors were constrained” and blames sanctions for that.)

I speculate that Page and Nunes discussed Tillerson’s appointment either before or after Page’s speech in Moscow. That is corroborated with the details of an additional Steele memo (not in the Dossier), as first reported in March 2018, that the Kremlin had input on who Trump chose as Secretary of State.

Furthermore, I also speculate Nunes had his Access to classified material either revoked or downgraded over his “midnight run” to the White House.

On 7 December 2017, the Ethics Committee determined that the intelligence Nunes shared was not classified and closed their investigation into their colleague.

This statement did not provide a status of his security classification – nor should it have. If Nunes indeed maintained his access classification, whatever that is, why would he not view the underlying documents he requested that his staff used to compose the Nunes Memo released two months later? Why did Congressman Gowdy view all documents on behalf of Nunes?

Until these answers are found, my speculation remains.