We’re probably only a few days away from the White House signing off on the release of Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo. But this morning, the FBI weighed in saying it had concerns there were “material omissions” in the memo. That’s a blow to the #releasethememo side of the argument because it basically confirms what Democrats like Adam Schiff have been saying for days, i.e. the memo isn’t a wholly accurate summary of the underlying facts. But Rep. Nunes isn’t backing down. This afternoon he released a statement blasting the FBI for its “spurious objections” and confirming the topic at hand is the use of unverified information to pursue surveillance of a political campaign.
Having stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year, it’s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies. The FBI is intimately familiar with ‘material omissions’ with respect to their presentations to both Congress and the courts, and they are welcome to make public, to the greatest extent possible, all the information they have on these abuses. Regardless, it’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign. Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.
Both FBI Director Wray and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein have reportedly asked the White House not to approve the release of the memo. However, Trump was caught on a hot mic last night being asked by Rep. Jeff Duncan to release it and he replied, “Oh, yeah, don’t worry…100 percent.”
Knocking the FBI and the DOJ won’t prevent Mueller from reaching whatever conclusion he is going to reach, but if you assume there is no way Mueller will indict the president (see here for more on that) then the decision of what to do with the findings falls on Rod Rosenstein. So discrediting (or even firing) him now could have an impact on how and when Mueller’s final report sees the light of day. Also, this could be an effort to discredit the launch of this investigation such that everything that follows becomes a kind of fruit of the poisonous tree, i.e. information that was only discovered through a kind of illegal search. Again, it won’t undo Mueller’s findings but it could diminish their impact.
But it’s also entirely possible Rep. Nunes is on to something here even if he’s being somewhat cavalier in the way he is pursuing it. It’s pretty hard to read some of those Strzok-Page text messages and look at the hints we’re getting about the forthcoming DOJ Inspector General’s report and not see strong hints that some troubling partisan behavior was afoot within the FBI and the DOJ in 2016. I’m not saying everyone there acted irresponsibly but there are genuine indications that some people at the top, up to and including Loretta Lynch, may have been acting inappropriately.
Ultimately, it’s possible that bits of both stories are true, i.e. maybe people within Trump’s orbit did something wrong and maybe some within the FBI also crossed lines into partisanship. All we know for certain is that, right now, the process of sorting out who did what and why is a mess.
Update: So much for the claim that Nunes was working with the White House. He specifically denied that according to a transcript.
Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman of The Daily Beast credulously believed their “sources familiar with the exchange,” who said Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, refused to deny he had coordinated with the White House when putting together a memo alleging surveillance and law enforcement abuses at the FBI.
In fact, Nunes explicitly denied the charge before shutting down the line of questioning in order to provide other members who were not trying to hijack the hearing time to get actual committee business done.