House Republicans and right-wing media outlets are up in arms about a classified memo purportedly detailing misconduct related to the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia.
After reviewing it on Thursday, a number of Trump-supporting Republicans flooded the airwaves on Fox News. On Hannity, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) called for Mueller to be fired, with Gaetz characterizing the special counsel’s investigation as “a lie built on corruption” and akin to “a palace coup.” On Friday morning, Fox & Friends spun the story as “worse than Watergate.”
Meanwhile, Trump supporters like Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), and Donald Trump Jr. called for the memo to be immediately released to the American public.
I viewed the classified report from House Intel relating to the FBI, FISA abuses, the infamous Russian dossier, and so-called "Russian collusion." What I saw is absolutely shocking.
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) January 19, 2018
The democrats are lucky Republicans are honorable people. If we played the game like they do the memo would be all over CNN and everywhere else by now. Maybe it’s time we stoop to their level? #releasethememo
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) January 19, 2018
Just reviewed the HPSCI memo detailing FBI & FISA abuses, and it is very concerning. Every American has a right to see this memo immediately. #ReleaseTheMemo
— Sean Duffy (@RepSeanDuffy) January 19, 2018
There are a number of reasons to be extremely skeptical about the memo, however.
House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes has already been involved in discredited efforts to run interference for Trump
According to Lawfare executive editor Susan Hennessey, Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) fingerprints are all over the FISA memo.
It appears to be some loose collection of Nunes's individual unfounded allegations related to unmasking, not clearly even endorsed by his fellow Republicans, now being seized on by opportunists looking for a Hail Mary to try to tank the 702 bill before Trump signs it. https://t.co/KnsT0VcA1o
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) January 19, 2018
Citing a source with knowledge, Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider adds that the so-called “Nunes memo” embodies “a level of irresponsible stupidity that I cannot fathom. Purposefully misconstrues facts and leaves out important details.”
Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, was at the center of a previous ham-handed attempt to run interference for Trump. Last spring, Nunes traveled to the White House to review documents that he said showed that “on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
Nunes was attempting to validate Trump’s reckless claim that then-President Obama “tapped” his phones. Trump went as far as to accuse former National Security Adviser Susan Rice of criminal acts related to unmasking, claiming the Obama administration’s surveillance practices are “one of the big stories of our time.”
But neither Nunes or Trump ever produced any evidence of wrongdoing, and their accusations were debunked by congressional sources on both sides of the aisle. With their narrative in shambles, the fact Nunes and the White House had clearly colluded in an attempt to manufacture a scandal led Nunes to announce he was “temporarily” stepping aside from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.
You can’t think about this Nunes memo without remembering that his last big foray into this territory, the unmasking stunt, was completely fabricated. Credibility matters, and he’s burned his.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) January 19, 2018
Republicans are trying to revive a process story that has already been debunked
In recent weeks, Nunes, Jordan, Gaetz, Hannity, and others have been ceaselessly trying to turn the story surrounding the Trump campaign’s Russia ties into a process story about the origins and nature of the FBI investigation. These Republicans are eager to cast the decision to investigate Trump as political, and prompted by the Steele dossier, which was partially funded by allies of Hillary Clinton.
But we recently learned that the story of the FBI’s investigation begins with Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos telling an Australian diplomat that Russia was in possession of political dirt about Hillary Clinton. What’s more, the investigation began in July 2016 — four months before Trump won the election.
Though Jordan has spent months promoting his Comey/Clinton conspiracy theory on the uncritical programming of Fox News, his claims have not held up under the slightest bit of scrutiny.
Jordan and Hannity are harping on FBI’s process as a way to distract from the story surrounding the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia — the actual thing Mueller is investigating. The new effort to create controversy about the FISA memo represents an extension of that effort.
The memo is not an official work product of the House Intelligence Committee
The FISA memo is not an official work product of the House Intelligence Committee — and it’s not clear how it was produced. According to a Daily Caller reporter, no Democrats have even seen it.
I'm told that 115 non-House Intel Committee members have seen the FISA memo. None of them are Democrats.
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) January 19, 2018
Not only are the origins of the memo unclear, but the question of which members of Congress endorse its findings remains open.
Republicans are using a lot of adjectives but won’t talk about what the memo actually says
Republicans are doing all they can to spread the idea that the memo contains scandalous findings.
These commments are all so over the top that the memo almost certainly says nothing.
“My stars! After reading the memo, I almost fainted!”
“‘Water,’ my aide shouted, running to my side. ‘Bring the congressman water!’” pic.twitter.com/B6kg4XRtcW
— Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) January 19, 2018
But over the course of numerous interviews on Fox News on Thursday and Friday, not a single Republican who has seen the memo said a single thing about its substance or what exactly they find so troubling about it.
There’s nothing standing in the way of the memo being released for public consumption
As National Review reporter Jim Geraghty pointed out on Twitter, there’s absolutely nothing stopping President Trump from declassifying the memo and releasing it for public review.
If this memo is such a smoking-gun bombshell that incriminates Obama, Comey, Mueller, Fusion GPS, etc. … why do we need a #ReleaseTheMemo Twitter campaign? Why isn’t the president declassifying it himself immediately?
— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) January 19, 2018
Even if Trump elected not to declassify the memo, Republican leaders in the House could do it without any Democratic support. And yet they haven’t, which makes one wonder if Republicans stand to lose more than they would gain from the memo’s public release.
The memo is being pushed by Republicans who have already proven they’re willing to do anything to protect Trump
A number of Republicans who are leading the effort to make a fuss about the memo, including Gaetz and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), have already called for Mueller to be dismissed.
Others — including Nunes and Jordan — have proven they’ll stop at nothing in their efforts to defend the president.
In short, the Republicans making the most noise about the memo have already demonstrated they are operating with motives besides protecting Americans from unwarranted surveillance. And their effort to muddy the waters is being aided by Russia-linked Twitter accounts.