On the morning of February 2nd, over objections from both the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, House Republicans released the now-infamous 4-page “Nunes Memo.” The FBI and Justice had expressed to Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, their “grave objections” to the memo’s release, because of concerns for both the misinformation and the classified information the memo contained. But Trump declassified it, and with the blessing of House Republicans, Nunes proceeded. Donald Trump proclaimed that it would soon discredit the ongoing investigation into both his relationship with Russia and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.
The Nunes memo claims the FBI may have used “politically motivated or questionable sources” in its application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign advisor. However, Page had already been under investigation since 2014 for possible collusion with the Russian government, and the FISA warrants had already been renewed multiple times. In addition, the memo itself makes note of the fact that it was information flowing directly from another Trump advisor, George Papadopoulos, which prompted the investigation — having nothing to do with Carter Page or any alleged “questionable sources.” This would seem to make the memo’s claims a “nothing burger.”
Nunes has long been a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, having served as part of his transition team. Earlier in 2017, he was forced to recuse himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation because of controversy surrounding his possible collusion with the White House in efforts to discredit the investigation. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so aptly put it at the time: “He’s gone off on a lark by himself, a sort of Inspector Clouseau investigation.”
Similarly, when a Democratic colleague asked Nunes this week in a closed-door committee meeting whether his team had coordinated with the White House on the contentious memo, Nunes refused to answer.
Democrats are saying the memo is misleading in its timeline, in what it says about statements made by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and in its many omissions. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee drafted their own rebuttal memo, but the Republican-majority committee voted to block its release.
Sen. Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the memo’s release “a reckless move.”
Republican Senator John McCain urged lawmakers and the president to stop “manufacturing partisan sideshows”. “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice,” he said, “serve no American interest – no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.”
In interview with NPR’s Mary-Louise Kelly, former CIA director, John McLaughlin, said:
“We’re on the verge, if this goes forward, of the president of the United States authorizing the public release of a document that one of his major national security officials, the director of the FBI, says is essentially false, and that his Justice Department has said is not accurate. That has never happened in the history of congressional oversight or in the history of presidential relations with Congress or with the intelligence community.”
He went on to say: “FISA warrants typically are big thick documents, 50-60 pages. If the Nunes memo about one is just 4 pages, you can bet it’s a carefully picked bowl of cherries.”
Perhaps Seth Meyers expressed it best in his skit this past week about the GOP effort to discredit the Russian investigation, using Trump’s own words from his State of the Union to show the dishonesty in cherry-picking:
Democrats are saying that President Trump and House Republicans are seeking a way to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation. That would allow Trump to replace Rosenstein with his own hand-picked, pliable Deputy Attorney General, effectively eviscerating the investigation.
Now, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has just released his own 6-page rebuttal to the Nunes memo. In it, he provides a detailed legal analysis of the Nunes memo, accusing its authors of “deliberately misleading” the American public. From Nadler:
“Until now, we could only really accuse House Republicans of ignoring the President’s open attempts to block the Russia investigation. But with the release of the Nunes memo … we can only conclude that House Republicans are complicit in the effort to help the President avoid accountability for his actions and the actions of his campaign.”
Zoe Licata and Camilla Warrender (Boston, Massachusetts)