Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018|2 a.m.
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For the sake of argument, let’s take President Donald Trump and his Fox News cheerleaders at their word that they really believe that the memo Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., launched Friday exposes a severe assault on our liberties by the FBI and the Justice Department.
Nah. Simply kidding.
It’s simply not possible, on any level, to take seriously the histrionics from Trump and his true-believer allies over the Nunes memo– other than as proof of how far the GOP has plunged into cynicism and insanity.
A lot of law-and-order, war-on-terrorism, lock-’em-up Republicans suddenly seem like spokespersons for the American Civil Liberties Union, so severe is their concern that our government might in any method trespass upon sacred due process. Think of how such guardians of the Constitution would protest if, say, that self-same federal government were to hold suspects in detention for a years or more without charges or trials. Wait, my bad: I appear to remember Republicans applauding with gusto when Trump, in his State of the Union address, announced that the prison at Guantanamo Bay would stay open.
Nunes, chairman of your home Intelligence Committee, loaded a lot half-truth and distortion into 4 short pages that it’s difficult to know where to begin. His hope must have been that everyone would get lost in thick weeds of arcane detail, forgeting the huge photo. Which is not a picture at all.
The point of the memo is to recommend that in October 2016, the FBI and Justice Department– under Barack Obama– poorly gotten a secret warrant to conduct security on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. We are expected to think the warrant was based upon info in the “discredited” Christopher Steele file about Trump’s connections with Russia. We likewise are provided to understand that essential info was poorly kept from the judge: that Steele’s firm was hired by Democrats seeking dirt on Trump. Nunes suggests, but does not quite state, that without the dossier, which was misrepresented by prosecutors, there would be no Russia investigation.
Ta-da! “This memo absolutely vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” the president desperately declared in a tweet.
Stop laughing, readers.
The problem with Trump’s self-exoneration, obviously, is that whatever the memo attempts to make us believe is incorrect. The dossier was not the only details the court counted on to authorize the warrant. Steele is a highly regarded previous British intelligence agent, and some of the dossier’s findings, however by no means all, seem accurate. The judge wasn’t told that the dossier was funded by the Democrats, merely a partisan “political entity,” however the products provided by the FBI made it obvious it was an entity opposed to Trump. The memo itself acknowledges– quietly– that the entire probe began with George Papadopoulos, another project adviser, months prior to Page even entered into the image.
Break this carefully to Sean Hannity, who may blow his last staying gasket: Even if the file had actually never ever been written, Trump and his campaign would still be under examination.
If you do not think me, take it from Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., whose partisan qualifications are unimpeachable– he led the Benghazi inquisition– and who was dispatched by Nunes to examine all the classified intelligence utilized to acquire the Page warrant.
“There is a Russia examination without a dossier,” he said Sunday. “The dossier has absolutely nothing to do with the conference at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent out by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier actually has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with blockage of justice.”
Gowdy announced recently that he would not run for re-election this fall. I wonder which comes first for Republicans nowadays: The choice to retire? Or the pangs of honesty, duty and– one hopes– regret?
Three other Republican members of the Intelligence Committee– Chris Stewart of Utah, Will Hurd of Texas and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio– signed up with Gowdy on the rounds of the Sunday shows to deliver what seemed like a collaborated message: Obviously the memo is an awfully major thing, however it does not undercut unique counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
It sounded like a cautioning to Trump, who may be tempted to use the memo as a pretense to rid himself of the frustrating Mueller. This isn’t the way Trump’s fawning courtiers on “Fox & & Pals” told him this memo gambit was going to work out. The whole Russia thing was expected to be over.
Perhaps he ought to change the channel every once in a while.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post.