Underwhelming and overcooked. That’s the best way to describe the controversial four-page Republican-authored memo released Friday over intense objections from Democratic Party lawmakers and the FBI itself.
But in the end, the concerns about declassifying this document appear to be as overblown as the sweeping allegations contained in the report itself. Heavy on innuendo and selective in supporting documentation, the memo leaves more reason to scratch one’s head than call for the scalp of anyone inside the U.S. Justice Department or the FBI — let alone reach any conclusion about potential collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government.
So it comes as no surprise that this memo has landed with more thud than thunder, rendering the president’s contentions that the report orchestrated by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, completely vindicates him all the more farcical.
The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday to make public a memorandum by Democrats rebutting the Republicans, but whether Trump goes along with the release is almost inconsequential at this point. The GOP version is already receiving plenty of rebuttal.
The public has many reasons to question the arguments within the GOP memo and the motivations of its authors. We offer just three observations. First, for all the smoke it offers, the memo gives no reason to question the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller or current FBI Director Christopher Wray, neither of whom had anything to do with the application for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Service Court in October 2016. They weren’t even on board at that point. Second, it offers no evidence to show that the information contained in the controversial Christopher Steele dossier, which served as the basis for the warrant for surveillance of suspected Russian agent Carter Page, was in fact inaccurate. Finally, for all the suggestions that the FBI abused U.S. surveillance law to go after Trump, let’s not forget that if it weren’t for James Comey’s decision 11 days before the Nov. 8, 2016 election to announce that the FBI was reviewing more Hillary Clinton emails, Trump most likely would not have been elected. Surely if the FBI was complicit in a plot to keep Trump out of the Oval Office, keeping that review under wraps would have been an easy task.
In the final analysis, the memo has more to say about Trump than the FBI — and those who will go to any length to safeguard him from any criticism or suggestion of impropriety.
The tactics being employed to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community is right out of the Trump play book, one written by Trump’s late mentor Roy Cohn, the fearsome New York attorney and former chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. As Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle noted last week, if Cohn had been around when Trump fired Comey, resulting in the Mueller investigation, “he would surely have advised exactly the sort of tactics Trump and Co. are now deploying. Attack, leak, distort, impugn. Magnify the offenses and mistakes of opponents, and use individual flaws to tar entire agencies.”
In other words, throw all sorts of allegations at the accusers and hope something sticks — and pay no heed to any concern of what lasting damage may be done to the nation’s intelligence community, because all that matters in the end is Trump. That is what the Nunes memo really says. And indeed, as the Republicans contend, it is disturbing.