I’m glad — and relieved. It would have been intolerable after all the hype for Republicans to go on whispering to the media about the alleged Russiagate surveillance abuses recorded in the memo and then never quite getting around to sharing it and letting the public judge for itself. That would have been gaslighting at the highest level, with the credibility of the Justice Department a casualty. Instead they’re going to show their work. If the DOJ’s behaved as badly as they claim, we deserve to know and there need to be consequences. If they haven’t and this is just a cynical Republican ploy to redirect heat away from Trump, we deserve to know that too.
Three cheers for total transparency.
Are we getting total transparency here?
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, apparently disregarding Justice Department warnings that their actions would be “extraordinarily reckless,” voted Monday evening to release a contentious secret memorandum said to accuse the department and the F.B.I. of misusing their authority to obtain a secret surveillance order on a former Trump campaign associate…
The memo, which was made available to all members of the House, is said to contend that officials from the two agencies were not forthcoming to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge. Republicans accuse the agencies of failing to disclose that the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign helped finance research that was used to obtain a warrant for surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser. The research presented to the judge was assembled by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele…
People familiar with the underlying application have portrayed the Republican memo as misleading in part because Mr. Steele’s information was insufficient to meet the standard for a FISA warrant. They said the application drew on other intelligence material that the Republican memo selectively omits. That other information remains highly sensitive, and releasing it would risk burning other sources and methods of intelligence-gathering about Russia.
The House Intelligence Committee does indeed have the power to declassify information if it deems doing so would be in the public interest, but it’s never done that before. Ever. Under the rule the White House now gets five days to decide whether to try to block the release on national-security grounds, which means we’re in for a week of even more tension between Trump and the DOJ. Trump wants the memo out, of course, since it serves his interests by discrediting the Russiagate investigation. The DOJ, however, said last week that it’d be “extraordinarily reckless” to put the memo out there without letting the Department scrutinize it first. Chris Wray reportedly got to read the memo this past weekend; presumably other DOJ personnel have either read it or will soon read it too. If the DOJ legal team declares that releasing it as-is would compromise natsec “sources and methods,” what does Trump do? What does Jeff Sessions do?
But wait. Isn’t there a Democratic counter-memo that’s been prepared, purporting to rebut Nunes’s version of events? Indeed there is, and that too was voted on this afternoon. The Committee voted to release Nunes’s memo … but not Adam Schiff’s counter-memo. Partisan hackery at work, or is there something more to it?
The House Intelligence Committee also considered a Democratic memo by Schiff, who said he would be offering his own memo Monday evening to counter the Nunes one. Schiff and other Democrats say Nunes’ memo skews the intelligence it’s based on and is effectively an effort to try to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign in 2016.
Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the committee’s Russia investigation, told CNN Monday that he would support releasing publicly Schiff’s memo as well as the Nunes memo, so long as it did not reveal intelligence sources and methods.
I’m not sure anyone, including and especially Republicans, has had a chance to read Schiff’s counter-memo yet, in which case how could the Committee vote to release it? Remember, today’s vote was the end of a process in which Nunes’s memo was made available for a week to the entire House to read in a secured facility; Schiff’s memo hasn’t been through that process yet. But it will soon. According to Byron York, the Committee also voted this afternoon to refer Schiff’s memo to the full House, just as Nunes’s memo was:
House Intel voted unanimously to make Dem countermemo available to all House members — same process initially followed with GOP memo.
— Byron York (@ByronYork) January 29, 2018
Mike Conaway confirmed that to CNN:
Conaway said the committee is taking same first step with Schiff memo that it took on Nunes memo earlier this month to first release it to the full House, explaining that's why Republicans voted against making the Schiff memo public today, per @jeremyherb
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 29, 2018
Presumably Schiff’s memo will be ready for release in a week, something he conveniently omitted in his post-meeting harrumphing about the GOP’s refusal to release both memos. But never mind that. We wouldn’t need Schiff’s memo (or Nunes’s memo) if we got what the public really deserves, declassification of the original FISA application for Russiagate surveillance. Is it true that the FISA judge was misled about the Steele dossier as the basis for the interest in Carter Page? Or is it true that the FBI’s interest in Page was based on independently collected evidence? I don’t want partisan spin from either side. Just show us the intel, redacted as necessary. Trump doesn’t need to wait for the House Intel Committee to act to give us that.
Here’s the other big news from today’s meeting, according to Schiff: The Republicans on the Committee have, supposedly, opened investigations of the DOJ and the FBI, a fact which Schiff claims wasn’t made known to the Committee’s Democrats until today. If that’s true and not another product of Schiff’s hyperbole — and it may be, per Conaway — I agree with Tom Nichols that it’s a bigger deal than the memo is. Exit quotation: “The memo itself is far less important than the fact that GOP Congressmen are now at war with our own law enforcement and intelligence community, something in a lifetime of being a Republican I never expected to see. This will end badly.”