On February 2, 2018, in a letter signed by White House Counsel Donald McGahn, President Trump declassified the contents of a memo
written by the Republican staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and that Committee released the memo to the public the same day. The purpose of the memo, as stated by its authors, was to raise concerns over “the legitimacy and legality of certain Department of Justice and FBI interactions” with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The Committee’s Chairman, Devin Nunes, lamented in a press release
accompanying publication of the memo that the Department of Justice and the FBI “abus[ed] their authority for political purposes” in obtaining a surveillance order directed at Carter Page, a former adviser to President Trump’s campaign, without revealing to the Court that a source for the intelligence underlying the surveillance application had financial connections to Trump’s political opponents. Those allegations have undermined the public’s trust in proceedings before that Court and our counter-intelligence system more generally.
Representing Brookings Institute national security experts Ben Wittes and Susan Hennessey, Protect Democracy filed an amicus brief with the FISC, asking the Court to provide the public with clarity on the matter. As the brief explains, “If the Court concludes that the Justice Department acted with political bias or violated rules of professional responsibility in this matter, the Court should inform the public of that and of any appropriate remedial action. Of equal importance, if the Court does not believe it was misled, then the Court should inform the public of that to correct the appearance of impropriety. Just as the public has a right to know whether the Justice Department has abused the FISA process, it has an equally compelling right to know whether the intelligence oversight process has potentially been abused by the people’s representatives in Congress and by the President.”