Through targeted subpoenas and threatening letters, Rep. Devin Nunes has forced into the open a fuller story of how the Obama administration investigated suspected Russian ties to the Trump campaign and monitored people connected to the presidential candidate.
The White House now has in its hands Mr. Nunes’ latest revelation: his top-secret, four-page memo outlining supposed abuses in the Justice Department during months of Trump surveillance.
Whether it was how the FBI used a Democrat-financed dossier or why the special counsel fired his top FBI agent or how many Trump associates were “unmasked” in wiretap spying, Mr. Nunes has unearthed facts that otherwise likely would have remained hidden.
Democrats, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, have pounced on Mr. Nunes for veering from the Trump-Russia collusion narrative to one of, they say, protecting President Trump.
Mr. Schiff has relied heavily on the unverified Russia-sourced dossier to frame the investigation and interrogate witnesses. He has resisted all of Mr. Nunes’ efforts to find out who paid for the dossier, who read it during the campaign or how the FBI relied on it to open its investigation.
John Heilemann, a member of the mainstream media punditry, seemed to have reached the height of liberal frustration Tuesday when he suggested that Mr. Nunes was a Russian agent.
“Is it possible that we actually have a Russian agent running the House intel committee on the Republican side?” Mr. Heilemann said on MSNBC. “He’s behaving like someone who’s been compromised, and there are people in the intelligence community and others with great expertise in this area who look at him and say, ‘That guy’s been compromised.’”
Mr. Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, won a Republican-majority vote Monday to release his memo, distilled from thousands of pages of secret documents. It details what he and other Republicans say were inappropriate actions by the FBI hierarchy and the Justice Department.
The clock is ticking. The White House can opt to release the memo after a mandatory five-day review.
To acquire access to the documents over a number of months, Mr. Nunes wrote letters accusing the Justice Department and the FBI of a cover-up, threatened to hold them in contempt and won as an ally House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
Among Mr. Nunes’ discoveries:
One of the most important, salacious and unverified documents in modern political history, the dossier begged the question, who paid its bills? Its 35 pages claim a wide criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence to hack Democratic Party computers. After more than a year, the FBI has not substantiated this.
Mr. Nunes subpoenaed the bank records of investigative firm Fusion GPS, which paid dossier writer Christopher Steele, a former British spy. Fusion went to U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block the move.
The court battle flushed out D.C. law firm Perkins Coie LLP, which filed a letter disclosing it had financed Fusion’s work with money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
With that mystery solved, Republicans are trying to determine who used the dossier’s scandalous information against Mr. Trump.
In July, special counsel Robert Mueller fired Peter Strzok, a counterintelligence specialist and the top FBI agent in his Russia collusion investigation. Mr. Strzok was banished to the FBI’s human resources branch.
Mr. Nunes pressed the FBI for months to explain but received no response.
On Dec. 1, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent — Mr. Strzok — about whether he discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The next day, the reason for Mr. Strzok’s reassignment appeared in the press.
Again urged on by Republicans, the Justice Department began releasing a series of text messages between Mr. Strzok and his lover, Lisa Page, chief legal counsel to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The lovers talked of an “insurance policy” against Mr. Trump and the activation of a “secret society” after his election victory. Ms. Page referred to Mr. Trump as a “menace.”
The Justice Department inspector general obtained the messages from the pair’s FBI cellphones. He has been investigating the FBI’s handling of its probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of private email servers, rather than the state.gov domain, to conduct official business.
The next step: Interview Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page to determine if they acted on their biases against Mr. Trump.
Bruce and Nellie Ohr
Mr. Nunes’ inquiry dug up the fact that Mr. Ohr, a senior Justice Department official, met with Mr. Steele, the dossier writer, during the presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, a Russian scholar, worked for Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. It is presumed she worked on the firm’s opposition research to bring down candidate Trump.
After the election, Mr. Ohr met with Mr. Simpson, though Mr. Ohr was not assigned to the Russia probe. Since the Fusion-Ohr disclosures, Fox News reported that he has been demoted for failing to disclose the meetings.
Mr. Nunes’ investigative journey began in March with a trip to the White House to view classified documents. The documents pertained to unmasking, the process whereby senior government officials can request that a transcript of intercepted foreign communication be unredacted to reveal a U.S. person’s name.
Mr. Nunes discovered that National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power made hundreds of such requests, some of which pertained to Trump associates.
Republicans say Mr. Nunes’ investigation led directly to reforms in how officials can request identities of citizens unintentionally collected in foreign surveillance. The director of national intelligence now requires a higher level of approval before a name is revealed and disseminated.
The news media criticized Mr. Nunes for visiting the White House. A liberal group filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee, which conducted an investigation and cleared him.
The next step is the release of the four-page memo produced by Mr. Nunes and his Republican colleagues.
Republicans who read the document after signing nondisclosure agreements said it addresses the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and whether the dossier’s information was used to obtain warrants.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and a member of the House intelligence committee, summed it up this way on “Fox News Sunday”: “If you think your viewers want to know whether or not the dossier was used in court proceedings, whether or not it was vetted before it was used, whether or not it’s ever been vetted, if you are interested in who paid for the dossier, if you are interested in Christopher Steele’s relationship with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, then, yes, you will want the memo to come out.”
It has been reported that Carter Page, a Trump campaign volunteer, was surveilled under FISA. The Steele dossier accuses Mr. Page of a series of collusion crimes, all of which he denies. He has filed a libel lawsuit against media outlets that reported the unconfirmed claims.
In the 2000s, Mr. Page worked in Moscow as a Merrill Lynch banker. A New York energy investor, he visited Moscow in early July 2016 to deliver a public speech. He is generally pro-Russia and a critic of U.S.-imposed sanctions.
Mr. Page provided a statement to The Washington Times: “The unfortunate attacks against Chairman Nunes represent the essence of the McCarthyism that has recently reemerged. For those who try accusing the Chairman of partisanship, at least his investigation’s recent conclusions in the forthcoming memo allegedly focus on hard facts. In doing so, the House Intelligence Committee’s findings should finally help America make a giant leap forward beyond the DNC-funded propaganda that has deceptively dominated the news for over a year already.”