Republicans Sold Their Credibility to Defend an Obvious Russian Agent

The Nunes memo is farce, wrapped around a farce, wrapped around another farce.

First, nothing in the memo vindicates Trump or his associates of any of the crimes of which they’ve been accused; it’s a tangential attack on the rationale for surveillance on a single target. Second, almost every single part of the memo is either objectively false or seriously misleading. Third, it wouldn’t even matter if the memo weren’t false or misleading, because none of the accusations constitute a crime, a civil liberties violation or even poor intelligence gathering.

But as a political matter, it’s remarkable to note that Republicans just spent the last few days–and will almost certainly spend months more–defending the right of Carter Page not to have been put under surveillance by law enforcement. This Carter Page:

Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page bragged that he was an adviser to the Kremlin in a letter obtained by TIME that raises new questions about the extent of Page’s contacts with the Russian government over the years.

The letter, dated Aug. 25, 2013, was sent by Page to an academic press during a dispute over edits to an unpublished manuscript he had submitted for publication, according to an editor who worked with Page.

“Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda,” the letter reads.

It’s not just that, of course. There’s this:

In interviews with reporters over the past year, Page has given inconsistent accounts about his contacts with the Russians.

In January 2013, Page met a Russian diplomat named Victor Podobnyy at an energy conference in New York City, according to court documents. The two exchanged contact information, sent each other documents on energy policy and met several more times to discuss the topic, the documents allege. Two years later, in January of 2015, Podobnyy was charged in absentia — along with two other Russians — with working as a Russian intelligence agent under diplomatic cover.

Court records include a transcript of a conversation where Podobnyy talks about recruiting someone named “Male-1” by making “empty promises” about “connections in the [Russian] Trade Representation.” Page now acknowledges that he was “Male-1.” Podobnyy and one of the Russians had diplomatic immunity and left the U.S. The third Russian was arrested and eventually expelled from the U.S. in April 2017.

In a pathetic attempt to defend the guy with the legal power to sign off on ripping apart protections for the poor and taxes on their donors, Republicans have sold their entire party’s credibility on a document designed to imply that the entire brass of the FBI and the Justice Department violated the civil rights of an obvious and self-declared Russian agent by putting him under surveillance. Was it really worth it? Is muddying a few news cycles and giving Trump the flimsiest of excuses to possibly fire Rod Rosenstein really worth what this episode will do to the Republican Party over the long term, and opprobrium of history that will befall every single Republican involved in this scheme?

This is a party drunk driving through history, compounding one shortsighted reckless action on another and hoping none of it catches up with them. It will, and when the bill comes due it will be big.

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.