Report: Adam Schiff may have leaked classified information to discredit FISA memo

Report: Adam Schiff may have leaked classified information to discredit FISA memo
Rep. Adam Schiff may have leaked classified information to discredit the FISA memo. Legal experts weighed in. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Did Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, leak classified information in an effort to discredit committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and the controversial “FISA memo?” According to a new report, he may have.

What happened?

After saying the memo’s release would trigger a “constitutional crisis” because of the sensitive information contained in the memo, Law&Crime reported that Schiff may have leaked classified information to reporters on Friday when discrediting the memo.

According to a CNN report, Schiff told reporters on Friday that the memo’s central claim — that the Department of Justice and FBI didn’t disclose the political biases of a source when seeking a FISA warrant on Carter Page — is “unfounded.”

Schiff told the media the memo’s claims were “not accurate” and the FISA court was made aware of the “likely political motivation” behind the Steele dossier. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times all reported this, citing anonymous sources, on Friday, CNN noted.

It was Schiff’s comments about whether or not the FISA court was aware of Steele’s political motivations that represent a potential leak of classified information, according to Law&Crime.

Why would that amount to leaking classified information?

Because, as Law&Crime noted, President Donald Trump only authorized the declassification of the FISA memo, not information about the FISA warrant on Page, which remains classified.

Legal experts agreed that Schiff may have gone beyond what was in the public record to discredit the memo, potentially leaking classified information. But they said it would be difficult to find many objections to Schiff’s comments.

Steven Aftergood, director of the government secrecy project at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Washington Examiner: “In the abstract they could be problematic since they go beyond the official public record. But under current circumstances, it is hard for me to imagine anyone objecting.”

Mark Zaid, an attorney who has worked national security cases dealing with classified information, told the Examiner Schiff’s comments likely fall into a “gray area.”

“At first blush I would have some concerns about the details in this statement as to whether it crosses a classification line, but it is possible Rep. Schiff, having had access to the underlying classified information, knows these points are in unclassified paragraphs. So much of these back and forths about the memo are in a gray area on classification,” he said.

Meanwhile, Robert Litt, who served as general counsel for the Office of the Director of National from 2009-2017, said Schiff likely didn’t leak classified information. He explained to the Examiner:

I guess it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the concept that, if it’s not classified to say, “The FBI didn’t tell the FISA Court about Steele’s bias,” it’s classified to say, “That’s false.” I don’t think that you could release what was actually in the [still-classified court] filing. But you could say that what Nunes says is wrong.

Schiff didn’t say what the FISA application said – he said only that what Nunes said isn’t what the application said. If he had gone further and said what the FISA application said, or if he had been talking about different statements in the Nunes memo such that his response would necessarily reveal what the application actually said, it might be different.

“It depends on the circumstances,” he added. “I could see circumstances where you might be violating classification like that. But not in this case.”