What the Nunes memo is really about

The Nunes memo is nothing more than spin and half-truths. But there's a dangerous agenda hiding behind the nonsense.

Rep. Devin Nunes.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

The Nunes memo is nothing more than spin and half-truths. But there's a dangerous agenda hiding behind the nonsense.

On Friday afternoon, the House Intelligence Committee released this massively hyped declassified memo, prepared by committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), alleging anti-Republican bias at the FBI. The point of the memo is clear: to purge the professionalism out of the FBI and subordinate a federal law enforcement agency to Republican partisan priorities. The first of those priorities is, of course, protecting any of President Trump's potential crimes, should they exist, from discovery. But it probably won't be the last.

So what is this Nunes memo? It's a four-page brief about the FBI's surveillance of Carter Page (a staggeringly dimwitted former Trump adviser who is under criminal investigation). The memo alleges that a 2016 wiretap warrant improperly relied on the Steele dossier, a collection of opposition research leads compiled by Christopher Steele. This research was first paid for by Trump's Republican opponents, and then by Democrats after Trump won the primary.

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The Nunes memo's implication is that several top-level people in the FBI and Justice Department, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, conspired to place Page under illegal surveillance. Thus did the dread Deep State — hell-bent on keeping America from becoming Great Again — maneuver to undermine the man who would become president.

For all sentient beings willing to think about this for more than five seconds before being distracted by a shiny chyron on Fox News, this is obviously a load of nonsense.

There are myriad issues with this politically manufactured BS. Let's go through a few. For one thing, the memo tries to make it appear as if the Steele dossier was the only reason the Trump campaign was being investigated. This is ludicrous. As my colleague Damon Linker writes:

The FBI knew that the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele (and apparently paid for by the Clinton campaign by way of research firm Fusion GPS) was raw intelligence. It is highly implausible (to put it mildly) that the FBI asked a FISA court to issue or renew a warrant for surveillance, let alone that the warrant was granted by that court, based solely on such intelligence without independent verification from other (probably clandestine) sources. That is most likely one reason why the FBI objects so strongly to the release of the Nunes memo — because it highlights the use of material from the Steele dossier in the FISA application without referring to additional corroborating information that was gathered elsewhere and that the FBI can't divulge without the risk of revealing where it came from. [The Week]

Indeed, the memo utterly fails to establish that the Steele dossier was the only source of FBI information. At the bottom, it even admits that another campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, was also being investigated long before Page. The memo tries to discredit that part of the investigation too by bringing up that Pete Strzok (of text message fame) was involved in the investigation — but somehow fails to mention that Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about talking to Russian sources.

Is it any wonder that FBI Director Christopher Wray took the extraordinary step earlier this week of issuing a statement that trashed Nunes' overhyped memo, saying the bureau had "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy"?

And let's ask ourselves: If the FBI is some hotbed of anti-Trump animus, why did then-FBI Director James Comey announce a reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails in late October 2016, and thereby help her lose the election? Why did the FBI keep its then-ongoing investigation into Trump's campaign secret, and some sources in the agency even lie to The New York Times that there was no such investigation into Russia ties? Not to mention that Comey, Rosenstein, and even Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself are all registered Republicans.

So what's the rationale for the bug-eyed Nunes memo?

The complicated background is explained well by Greg Sargent. But in brief: The Mueller investigation is reportedly focusing heavily on President Trump's role in a 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russian sources at Trump Tower about opposition research on Hillary Clinton. White House sources confirm that Trump views the Nunes memo as a good reason to get rid of Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly demanded loyalty oaths from top law enforcement officers, admitted on national television that he fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation, and tried to fire Mueller back in June and was only stopped when the White House counsel threatened to resign.

To Trump and Co., it doesn't really matter what the Nunes memo says, or how idiotic and empty its claims and implications are. All that matters is that it helps to discredit the people who could bring down Trump.

The memo is a combination of nonsense, half-truths, and spin designed to create an excuse for Trump to fire Rosenstein, and replace him with a stooge who will do what he is told: Stop the Russia investigation before it gets to Trump.

If Trump succeeds, the next logical step would be to use the FBI to actively further Republican partisan advantage. It is not inconceivable that no matter who the next Democratic presidential nominee is, Republicans will declare that he or she is a criminal, and demand an FBI investigation.

If that sound farfetched, please remember that Republicans actually did this with the Democrats' 2016 presidential nominee. But this time around, if the top ranks of the agency are stuffed with Trump's loyal handpicked goons, they very well may succeed in locking her up.

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