Quick Takes: The Nunes Memo Has Nothing to Do With Transparency or Oversight

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* House Speaker Paul Ryan made his complicity with the Nunes memo clear today.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Thursday defended the vote by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release a memo that purports to prove surveillance abuses by top Justice Department officials.

“Congress doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight over a very unique law, FISA. And if mistakes were made, and if individuals did something wrong, then it is our job as the legislative branch of government to conduct oversight over the executive branch if abuses were made,” Ryan told reporters at a Republican retreat in West Virginia.

Of course Ryan never mentioned that the opposing party also crafted a memo on these matters, which Republicans on the Intelligence Committee refused to release. So much for oversight.

* The other argument Republicans are making is that releasing this memo is all about transparency, not an attempt to attack the FBI and the Mueller investigation. That one is completely undermined by the president himself.

President Donald Trump continues to tell his associates he believes the highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools could help discredit the Russia investigation, multiple sources familiar with White House discussions said.

In recent phone calls, Trump has told friends he believes the memo would expose bias within the agency’s top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigations are prejudiced against him, according to two sources.

* Trump could release the memo himself, but it looks like he’ll take the coward’s way out and leave it up to his chief enabler Rep. Nunes to do the dirty deed.

That evasion could come in handy at some point if Trump needs to distance himself from this one.

* Jonathan Swan reports that perhaps all the hype about this memo has oversold its contents.

Inside the Trump administration, sources who’ve been briefed on the Nunes memo expect it will be underwhelming and not the “slam dunk” document it’s been hyped up to be.

What we’re hearing: There is much more skepticism inside the administration than has been previously reported about the value of releasing the memo, according to sources familiar with the administration discussions.

Be smart: Trump still wants to release the memo. But there are a number of people in the White House who are fairly underwhelmed, and there’s internal anxiety about whether it’s worth angering the FBI director and intelligence community by releasing this information.

* Preparations are being made for yet another short-term spending bill.

The House could vote as early as Tuesday on a stopgap bill to fund the government through March 22, according to multiple GOP sources.

Congress has until Feb. 8 to avoid another shutdown, but finding the votes in the House will not be easy for GOP leaders.

Conservatives and defense hawks are threatening to oppose yet another short-term funding bill. House Democrats, meanwhile, have refused to back stopgap measures without securing relief for Dreamers.

* Things could get real interesting in March.

The U.S. government’s cash reserves are expected to run out faster than expected, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday, a result of lost revenue from last year’s tax cut law.

If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by the first half of March, CBO said, “the government would be unable to pay its obligations fully, and it would delay making payments for its activities, default on its debt obligations, or both.”

* Thank you Kevin Drum for providing a clear breakdown of the nothingburger known as Trump’s infrastructure plan.

Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. As near as I can tell, here’s the skinny:

* It’s really more like a $1 trillion plan.
* States are expected to put up $800 billion.
* The federal government will put up $200 billion.
* But the money will be taken from other projects.

In other words:

* Net new spending from the federal government will be zero.
* The incentives to states will be far too small to prompt any truly new development—though I have no doubt that states will compete ferociously to get federal money for projects they were going to do anyway.
* The private sector will get involved only if they can make money via tolls, use fees, etc. That is to say, taxes.

In yet other words:

* There is nothing there. There will be no new publicly-funded infrastructure.

* Finally, I’ll just leave this one out there as one of those things that makes you go, “Hmmmmm…”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.