The potential public release of a four-page memo penned by California Rep. Devin Nunes about the possible abuse of American surveillance laws by the Federal Bureau of Investigation dominated the news on Thursday, and if it is released as expected this morning we’re sure it will dominate at least another 24 hour news cycle. The memo will have to be pretty darned good to justify all the fuss, however, and we don’t expect it will be.
It’s complicated enough to fill all those column inches and broadcast hours with explanations, and it’s merely a subplot in the “Russia thing” that still hasn’t been explained after nearly two years of the best media efforts, but a lot of things that are hard to explain aren’t worth the effort. This one’s worth following, though, as it is a telling subplot of that “Russia thing,” which does matter, and illustrates just how awful almost everyone involved can be.
In case you’ve lately been too happily busy to be following the subplot, Nunes is a proudly partisan Republican who wound up in charge of the House committee charged with investigating the “Russia thing.” He quickly established a reputation as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump against all the various “Russia thing” suspicions, and was so zealous about that he wound up resigning his chairmanship after an embarrassing impromptu news conference where he announced he was taking some unreleased exculpatory evidence to the White House and it turned out he’d obtained the evidence from the White House and it wasn’t very exculpatory. Despite his self-proclaimed recusal from the matter he penned a four-page memo which reportedly outlines the reasons he believed the whole “Russia thing” was cooked up by some FBI agents who used a phony-baloney Democrat-bought “dossier” to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts to spy on the Trump presidential campaign in the most scandalous case of political espionage since President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign had those inept burglars try to bug the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building.
Meanwhile all the Trump apologists on Fox News and talk radio and the comments sections of the far right internet sites and in Congress have been insisting the real “Russia thing” is actually a Russian-aided plot by the “deep state” and the “fake news” and assorted other “globalists” loathe to make America great again, so they’ve been clamoring for a while to have the memo publicly released. They’ve finally got an authentic government document to corroborate their conspiracy theories, and “release the memo” has become a popular “hashtag” with both Russian “‘bots” and actual people, and after his overshadowed State of the Union address Trump was caught on a “hot mic” telling a congressman that there was a “100 percent” chance the memo was about to be released.
Neither Trump nor his apologists seem to realize how complicated it all is, though, and we don’t expect the long-awaited four pages will be worth the risk they’re taking. It’s an authentic government document, to be sure, but so is the unreleased memo written by the Democrats on the House’s investigative that reportedly outlines all the more plausible reasons they think Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to affect the American presidential election, and by now no one puts much stock in anything just because it’s an authentic government document. Nunes is entitled to his opinions, but the public is entitled to regard it as nothing more than the opinions of a proudly partisan politician.
To whatever extent Nunes’ opinions are informed by the classified information he’s seen as the deposed chairman of a House investigative committee, it gives credence to the objections of the FBI and other intelligence-gathering agencies that the release will reveal sources and methods that are better left classified. That includes the Trump-appointed leaders of those bureaus and agencies, so that abandonment of longstanding Republican principles further complicates the matter, even if the Democrats opposed to release of the memo stand credibly accused of the same hypocrisy.
The accusation that FISA laws have been is also tricky for the Republicans, whose resolute anti-terrorist stand got the laws passed over the objections of those bleeding-heart Democrats and addle-brained libertarian types of Republicans who warned the law could be too easily abused by rogue government actors for all sorts of mischief. Nunes was one of the most outspoken Republicans who supported the laws, which now requires a lot of explaining.
The more reasonable sorts of Republicans assured the public that the FISA laws were carefully written enough to require a very high standard of proof to win a warrant to surveil an American citizen, and that a highly compelling case must be made that the national security was at stake, and so far as well can tell those assurances have proved true. Nunes’ four-page memo reportedly asserts that the FISA courts handed out wiretaps on all sorts of sinless Trump campaign officials on the basis of a phony-baloney Democratic-funded dossier by some shady foreigner, but the next 24 hours of news will explain how it’s more complicated than that.
By all accounts it takes more than a four-page memo of partisan opinions to obtain a FISA warrant, what’s already been reported in the “fake news” and subsequently acknowledged by Trump would probably suffice, the rest of what the feds had to get their disputed surveillance warrants would surely reveal all sorts of sources and methods better left classified. To whatever extent the FISA courts used that phony-baloney dossier from some foreigner only demonstrates the carefully vetted and Republican-confirmed jurists gave credence to the findings of a respected former British intelligence agent.
Maybe those four pages will be so jam-packed with juicy details that it convincingly explains the whole “Russia thing” as a plot by the Democrats and the “deep state,” and we’ll be obliged to give it a fair reading. If it turns out to be just another piece of an obstruction of justice case, though, we won’t be surprised.
— Bud Norman