The memo freakout

Donald Trump’s critics have moved beyond latter-day Cold Warrior mode into full blown McCarthyism. John Heilemann of MSNBC has taken to insinuating that Republican Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, might be a Russian plant. The congressman’s offense is producing and working to release a memo about the sources of the FBI’s surveillance of persons associated with the Trump campaign in 2016, which has made Nunes the most hated man in Washington for Democrats and the press.

The memo is portrayed as a blatant PR gimmick and a clear and present danger to America’s intelligence operations. But from what we know of Nunes and his colleagues, they have long been sincerely alarmed at what they’ve learned about how the FBI operated in 2016. The suspicions have been heightened by the bizarre stonewalling of the committee’s inquiry by a Republican-led Justice department (this background accounts for why the committee hasn’t worked closely with the DOJ on the memo).

As for endangering U.S. intelligence, the committee has scrupulously followed the process to declassify the document in such circumstances. Nunes or someone else could have simply leaked the document to a sympathetic reporter — this is how Washington usually works — but he has instead played by the rules. The White House is, per chief of staff John Kelly, currently scrubbing the document, and presumably anything that reveals sources and methods will be redacted.