"Just because it’s biased, doesn’t mean it’s not true.” That was the assessment from Good Morning America journalists and analysts on Saturday while discussing the intelligence memo released on Friday. Guest Matt Dowd touted the already-tired “Al Capone vault” comparison.
But first, ABC contributor and ex-FBI agent Brad Garrett shrugged at the information in the memo: “Most of the time it is biased. But the point being, can you corroborate it? Just because it's biased, doesn't mean it's not true.”
Yet, according to the memo itself, the Steele Dossier WASN’T just biased, the FBI saw it as untrue:
According to the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, Assistant Director Bill Priestap, corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its “infancy” at the time of the initial Page FISA application. After Steele was terminated, a source validation report conducted by an independent unit within FBI assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated. Yet, in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier, even though it was—according to his June 2017 testimony—“salacious and unverified.”
Analyst Matt Dowd apparently thought he was being original when he sneered of the memo: “The last time we saw something like this was when Geraldo Rivera revealed Al Capone's vault.”
(This was a reference to when journalist Rivera opened the gangster’s alleged vault live on television in 1986. Nothing of interest was in there.)
On Monday, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski quoted from the New Republic:
It would be easy to compare Congressman Devin Nunes’s release of a declassified memo on purported surveillance abuses to Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault. But this would be extremely unfair to Geraldo, who didn’t know ahead of time that it would be empty.”
It’s almost as though talking points are going around.
A partial transcript is below. Click on “expand” to read:
PAULA FARIS: Let’s get right to the core of the allegation of the memo that in the thick of the campaign: The Justice Department, the FBI used action that was in part bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign to spy on someone, Carter Page of Team Trump. If true, isn't that a problem, Brad? Let's begin with you.
BRAD GARRETT (ABC contributor, former FBI special agent): Of course it's a problem if that were true but let me explain something, you don't have the luxury of picking where your sourcing information comes from. Most of the time it is biased. But the point being, can you corroborate it? Just because it's biased, doesn't mean it's not true. I will tell you based on experience that getting wiretaps approved, you have to have layers and layers of corroboration to get both the FBI, the Department of Justice and the judge to sign a wiretap order. So the idea that it was just based on a dossier is just silly.
FARIS: All right, Matt.
DOWD: Well, to me this thing — obviously we should raise questions about how FISA applications are done. But like in life or politics or in marketing, the best thing you can do is under-sell and over-deliver. What the Republicans have done and Chairman Nunes have done is over-sell and under-deliver. The last time we saw something like this was when Geraldo Rivera revealed Al Capone's vault. And what we have is very little evidence of a problem. And in the end, this doesn't raise any questions about the Mueller probe.
DAN HARRIS: So, let me pick up on that, Matt, because critics say this may be used as a pretext for the President to fire Rod Rosenstein. He is the deputy Attorney General in charge of the Russia probe. He is the only who can fire the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The White House says there are no plans to fire Rosen tine but if the president would do that what do you think the consequences would be politically?
DOWD: Well, that's what I think this memo is all about. There really is no legal questions that this memo is somehow really substantively argued for. It's really a political memo and the political memo is in the short term it can muddy the wears. But also it can provide Donald Trump, the President, with some evidence in his mind of how he can circumvent the Mueller investigation. As I said earlier, this memo raises no questions about the credibility of Bob Mueller investigating the Russian collusion or other issues related to that. But it can muddy the wears and put Donald Trump in the position of being able for him to politically try to short-circuit the investigation.
HARRIS: You're talking about this already, but I want to drill down on it a little bit. This story is so complicated, it involves names that are not household names, Rod Rosenstein, Carter Page. It's confusing even for me and I get paid to follow this stuff. Do you think in the end, the Republicans have succeeded in creating generalized doubt and suspicion that serves to under mine the entire Russia probe?
DOWD: Well, the unfortunate thing is I think the Republicans have succeeded in undermining a -- two branches of government that were the less vestiges of credibility in the American public, which is the FBI, which the country desperately needs to investigate all kinds of crimes and the Department of Justice for the exact same reason. So, yes, they have achieved a short-term benefit of muddying waters but the long-term detriment it does to these institutions we desperately need is something that the country is going to have to deal with.
FARIS: Brad, as a former FBI agent you just heard Matt say this really muddies the waters but what is the long-term damage if any to the FBI as well as the Department of Justice?
GARRETT: Well, the long-term damage is credibility, because you're only as good as people talking to you and your relationships both with allies in the country as well as overseas. If you took this at face value, certainly comes across as really sloppy work which I guarantee you is not the case. So the FBI will continue on. They're probably angry, discouraged but determined.