It’s neither snark nor exaggeration to say that this is why Sean Hannity and Fox News exist. Given the insane amount of buzz that’s been poured into this thing from the president to House Republicans to #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag users on Twitter, it cannot be a dud. The Memo could consist of four pages of Devin Nunes writing “FART” in different colored crayons and Fox primetime will pronounce it worse than Watergate.
It’s also neither snark nor exaggeration to say that the specifics of The Memo don’t matter. Rod Rosenstein potentially has the most to lose since he’s the only person likely to be named who’s still in a leadership position at the DOJ, but in his case we can guess what the complaint will be. The point of this exercise isn’t to single out a particular FBI agent or DOJ lawyer for misconduct, it’s to delegitimize the Mueller investigation by claiming that it’s a tree that grew from a bad seed, the Steele dossier. The Memo will claim that the dossier was a key piece of evidence (if not the only piece of evidence) in obtaining the original FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page and possibly that the FBI didn’t tell the FISA judge that its leads were developed from a piece of political opposition research. Q.E.D.: Russiagate is a sham and Mueller’s probe should be shut down immediately. That’ll be the political conclusion regardless of what the specifics are, so how much does it really matter what the specifics are?
It doesn’t, which is why the White House is willing to go ahead despite allegedly worrying that the hype has outgrown the reality:
Inside the Trump administration, sources who’ve been briefed on the Nunes memo expect it will be underwhelming and not the “slam dunk” document it’s been hyped up to be.
What we’re hearing: There is much more skepticism inside the administration than has been previously reported about the value of releasing the memo, according to sources familiar with the administration discussions.
Be smart: Trump still wants to release the memo. But there are a number of people in the White House who are fairly underwhelmed, and there’s internal anxiety about whether it’s worth angering the FBI director and intelligence community by releasing this information.
Meh. Again, it really *can’t* be underwhelming. It can on the merits, I guess, but the “worse than Watergate” package is running tomorrow night at 9 p.m. on Fox no matter what’s in this thing. No matter what, Trump will be tweeting about it breathlessly for days. It’ll be received as a bombshell by the target audience and therefore, as a matter of political fact, it’s a bombshell, period. In fact, I think there’s a better chance that the Memo is more provocative than expected instead of less provocative. Hype is sky high within MAGA Nation but everyone else excepts it to be thin gruel. If Nunes makes an allegation that, say, the FBI lied to the FISA judge about where its evidence for the Page warrant came from, that’ll be genuinely interesting and concerning. As great as expectations are on the right for a “deep state” expose, they’re zero everywhere else. The Memo can and will probably clear a bar that’s currently resting on the ground.
And even if it doesn’t, don’t forget that Trump and his allies have a second bite at the apple. The curious case of Andrew McCabe being nudged into (slightly) early retirement a few days ago wasn’t triggered by The Memo, it was allegedly triggered by the DOJ Inspector General’s forthcoming report on Emailgate. Apparently Chris Wray read something in a draft of the report that made him nervous about keeping McCabe on, so McCabe was eased into “terminal leave.” The Memo can and will be dismissed as partisan blather, contradicted by a soon-to-be-released Democratic memo and unsupported by any underlying intelligence documents, which remain classified. But if the IG report is damning of the FBI? That’ll be big shakes, and not something that Trump’s enemies will be able to easily spin. I can imagine the White House whiffing on one report, but both?
Gonna be weird, though, if Trump goes to the mat for The Memo, most of the public shrugs, and he loses his FBI director over it. I hope the value to him of doing this is worth the potential cost. Exit quotation:
George Will on MSNBC, undisturbed by release of memo: 'Don't we all want to know what the FBI was doing during the climactic moments of the 2016 campaign?'
— Byron York (@ByronYork) February 1, 2018