The possible/probable/expected release of “the memo” today (unless President Donald Trump changes his mind) is going to be a sight to be seen, if only for the partisan rancor which follows. Trump Republicans are likely to grab their pitchforks and torches, while Democrats will probably do their best to call it a partisan hack job whilst questioning the mental stability of the President. Non-Trump Republicans might have a mixed reaction, depending on the contents. The actual publication of “the memo” (for some reason I keep seeing the crocodiles from Pearls Before Swine scream “Da Google” in my head) is something which should happen because it encourages government transparency.
The American government is supposed to be transparent to those it serves, yet has increasingly done its best to remain shrouded in secrecy. The Obama Administration did its best imitation of Smaug guarding his treasure in The Hobbit by spending $36M to fight FOIA requests in court, while also deleting the FOIA regulations for the White House Office of Administration in 2015. “The memo’s” release is a step in reversing some of the clouds of secrecy surrounding Washington D.C., even if its contents end up being chock full of nothing, a conspiracy theory only The Lone Gunmen could love, or a mixed bag. The government has constantly failed in its obligation to let its citizens know what it does behind its marble doors, despite the invention of the 24-hour news cycle, Drudge, and CSPAN.
One of the biggest problems with the upcoming release of “the memo” is the fact it exposes major hypocrisy within the Republican Party when it comes to mass surveillance. One thing Julian Sanchez at Cato pointed out earlier this week is the fact Republican Congressmen Steve King, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, and Devin Nunes himself, all voted to extend #FISA702 in January.
This should seem incongruous on its face. One need not believe that there are ongoing partisan conspiracies within the FBI and Justice Department to support more stringent civil liberties safeguards on the broad spying authorities the intelligence community has accumulated over the past two decades. But it is very hard to understand how one could believe such a conspiracy exists—indeed, continues to be covered up by sitting officials—yet reject even the idea of pausing to debate such safeguards before renewing precisely the sorts of powers one claims have been abused.
It’s beyond frustrating, and you’d think those who are pushing the hardest for the memo’s release would also the ones complaining the most about the surveillance state itself. It’s unsurprising to see the hypocrisy because, after all, this is government where hypocrisy happens in one way, shape, or form on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. The GOP wants to score points with its base, and encourage higher turnout in this year’s elections. The Democrats obviously want to do the opposite, hence why Congressman Adam Schiff is calling “the memo” #FakeNews, and, as Jazz noted earlier today, something which the House Intelligence Committee didn’t vote on. It doesn’t mean the memo shouldn’t be released because of the previously mentioned change.
The other thing which shouldn’t be lost in this political football match of “Release ‘the memo'” is the surveillance debate, as a whole. The government, including Trump, recently extended #FISA702 for another six years, despite a major push from civil libertarians to either kill, or amend, the program. The Senate declined to let there be amendments on the bill, and had to wrangle Dan Coats to put the screws on both Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Louisiana Senator John Kennedy to end debate. Yet, here we are not a month later, and there’s the potential “the memo” will reveal FISA abuse. The hypocrisy is stunning!
Perhaps the government will backtrack, and reconsider changes to the FISA law (hardly likely, but one can hope) once “the memo” finally sees the light of day. Perhaps there will actually be a debate on mass surveillance across the nation, with people starting to wonder just what the government is doing when its goes to a FISA court to get a secret warrant, then delivers it to telecom companies so customers don’t have to know their data is being seized. Perhaps civil libertarians will (finally) be listened to (for once) about the dangers of secret courts and secret warrants and mass surveillance in general for longer than 15 minutes. Perhaps the media will actually talk to Senators pushing for reforms days and weeks before the next FISA bill is debated, instead of days after.
Here’s hoping “the memo” will come out, and the discussion won’t just be along partisan lines (again, highly unlikely) but an actual discussion on the dangers of mass surveillance. It’s highly unlikely, but one can dream, right?