Republicans Endanger the Country for Short-Term Gain by Releasing the Nunes Memo

The Republican members of the House just took a party-line vote to release the Nunes memo that gives out certain details of the beginnings of the investigation into Trump campaign activities around Russia. This sounds like boring inside baseball, but it has profound implications for how desperate Republicans are right now, how recklessly they are behaving, and how willing they are to do incredible damage to the country and their own long-term credibility just for brief partisan gain.

The story is complicated, but here’s the boiled down version: during the campaign, it came to the FBI’s attention from multiple sources that a Trump associate named Carter Page had suspicious dealings with Russian spies. Page had been on the FBI’s radar for quite some time for this, well before he actually joined the Trump team. A warrant was issued for surveillance on him through the FISA court, a court whose dealings are classified precisely because if information on the suspects were released, it might hamper future intelligence gathering. Current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is said to have approved the warrant—as well he should have. Subsequent to all this, a firm called Fusion GPS was hired by both the conservative Washington Free Beacon and the Clinton campaign to do opposition research on Donald Trump. Among the discoveries from this research was that Carter Page and other Trump associates were allegedly compromised by Russia. Republicans have therefore tried to claim that the entire Russia investigation is suspect, because it was based in (very small) part on research that was originally partly funded by the Clinton campaign, even though the heads of the FBI throughout all of it have been Republicans, appointed by Republicans.

This is very thin gruel. But it’s all Republicans have to go on. They know that Mueller is dangerously close to exposing a wide array of wrongdoing by Trump, his campaign, and perhaps other Republicans as well. Having wholly wedded themselves to Trump, they know they need to stop it somehow. They know that Trump wants to fire Mueller, but can’t do it without a rationale, and can’t do it without firing Rosenstein first.

So Republicans are releasing a very selectively edited partisan memo that exposes some of the intelligence gathering processes of the FBI in order to show that Rosenstein approved of the FISA warrant on Page (of course he did!), and alleging that the only reason he did so was because of research funded by the Clinton campaign (totally untrue, but in any case frankly irrelevant so long as the underlying research was accurate). Republicans are denying the release of information that would corroborate the multiple other sources used by the FBI to validate their reasons for surveiling Page, and they know that neither the Justice Department nor the Democrats would dare to release much of the other information that we knew at the time about Trump associates’ connections to Russia, because it could burn intelligence gathering sources and literally lead to the assassination and murder of our intelligence assets by Putin.

Republicans don’t care. They intend to use a misleading memo to allege a liberal partisan motive by a Republican-appointed Republican in the Justice Department in authorizing legitimate surveillance on a target who was fairly clearly working as a foreign agent for Russia, simply so that Trump can have a flimsy excuse to fire Rosenstein and then Mueller. They don’t care if they’re actively helping Russia and damaging American intelligence capabilities in so doing, or that they’re helping aid and abet a massive criminal conspiracy and coverup in the White House, or that they’re locking the entirety of their party into complicity in the whole enterprise. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that if the Mueller investigation is stopped in its official tracks, all the evidence from it will leak into the public sphere regardless. They don’t seem to realize that the accountability will come in any case— whether it’s from Mueller officially revealing what he has at the completion of his investigation, or from damaging leak after damaging leak to the press after his investigation has been scuttled, resulting in inevitable recommencement of the investigation and impeachment proceedings by a near-certain Democratic House in 2018.

It’s a desperate, reckless, and immoral move. But it’s par for the course for the GOP these days.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.