With the Friday release of the House Republican intelligence memo, we know a little bit more about the current investigations into possible abuse of power in the Obama and Trump administrations. Here are a few key points to understand about what we know so far.
What alleged scandals are being investigated?
While there are many overlapping issues, two key concerns lie at the heart of these allegations.
1) Did President Donald Trump collude with the Russians during his election campaign and obstruct justice in the investigation into that possible collusion after he became president?
2) Did the President Barack Obama administration, in coordination with the Hillary Clinton campaign, use the FBI to spy on the Trump campaign for political purposes?
Democrats are primarily interested in potential scandal #1 and Republicans are primarily interested in potential scandal #2.
What did the GOP memo show?
The GOP memo showed what many suspected all along — the FBI used Clinton campaign opposition research (the infamous "Steele dossier" compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele) to obtain a warrant (through a FISA court) to spy on a member of Trump's campaign team.
Republicans complained that the warrant request didn't reveal it was based partly on the unverified opposition research, much of which came from the Russian government, an untrustworthy source to begin with given they were actively trying to undermine the election. Democrats responded that the information was in a footnote, to which Republicans have replied it should've been clearly stated in the body of the document.
A key question now is whether the FISA court would've issued the warrant anyway without the Steele dossier. The GOP memo claims that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified to the House Intelligence Committee that the Steele dossier was necessary to obtain the warrant. Democrats on the committee dispute that, arguing that the Republicans are misrepresenting what McCabe said.
Who is Carter Page?
The FISA warrant obtained by the FBI was to spy on Carter Page, who briefly served as an adviser in the Trump campaign. In 2013, Page was part of an FBI investigation involving Russians trying to recruit Americans spies. The Russians decided at the time Page wasn't worth the trouble. A wiretap caught a Russian agent referring to him as an "idiot."
Trump added Page to his campaign as a foreign policy adviser in March 2016. In July, Page traveled to Russia to deliver a speech, which was reported by the media. The Steel dossier claims that Page met with some high-ranking Russian government officials during the trip and negotiated an end to Russian sanctions if Trump were to become president in exchange for millions of dollars. Christopher Steele relayed this info to the FBI, while still working for the Clinton campaign, which apparently triggered the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign.
In September 2016, Page left the campaign after media reports of his Russia connections. The FBI obtained the FISA warrant the next month, just weeks before the election. Even though Page had left the campaign, the warrant would allow the FBI to look at older communications, such as email, that happened while Page was working for Trump. The warrant was renewed three times, which is required by law every 90 days if the FBI wants to continue investigating.
Does the GOP memo clear Trump in the Russia investigation?
Trump claims that the GOP memo, evidence of scandal #2, clears his name in the Russia investigation, scandal #1.
"This memo totally vindicates 'Trump' in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!" Trump tweeted Saturday.
But the two scandals are not a zero-sum game. The truth of one doesn't make the other false. Both can be true, or both can be false.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a co-author of the GOP memo, made this point Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I actually don't think [the memo] has any impact on the Russia probe ... and I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it. There is a Russia investigation without a dossier. So to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos' meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn't have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So there's going to be a Russia probe, even without a dossier," he said.
We will likely learn more as the investigations continue. There are currently six investigations — two committees in the House, two committees in the Senate, special counsel Robert Mueller's independent investigation, and the FBI's internal inspector general report.