The Big Takeaway From the Release of the Comey Memos

The memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote about his meetings with Donald Trump have been released. As I noted yesterday, the president’s enablers in Congress had threatened to hold Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or impeach him if he didn’t respond to their demands. But the president’s allies were demanding that these memos be released to congressional committees. For example, here is the letter from Representatives Nunes, Goodlatte and Gowdy to Rosenstein:

It demands that copies of the memos be released to the three committees chaired by these Republicans and states, “There is no legal basis for withholding these materials from Congress.” In other words, they weren’t asking for the memos to be released publicly.

However, simultaneous to the release of these memos to Congress, they were also released to the media—specifically to the Associated Press. It is worth asking how that happened.

In the past, Nunes has used documents like these to cherry-pick the information he wants to release publicly. That is what we saw with the memo he wrote that was used to accuse the FBI of relying on the Steele dossier for their FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page.

It is unclear at this point whether their demand to have the Comey memos released to Congress was an attempt to do the same thing or whether it was simply a request that they thought Rosenstein would deny, providing an excuse for him to be fired. But based on what we now know about the memos, I doubt their intent was for these documents to become public, because they basically corroborate everything Comey has said at the exact same time that the former FBI director is traveling around the country to promote his book.

In other words, it looks like Rosenstein responded to their demands by not only releasing these memos to the congressional committees, but by allowing them to be released publicly. That cuts off either aim Trump’s enablers had in mind. They can’t hold him in contempt of Congress or impeach him for refusal to comply and they can’t cherry-pick what is released to the public.

The fact that these memos merely corroborate what Comey has said publicly makes them a non-issue for the ongoing investigation into whether the president obstructed justice. His legal team didn’t learn much of anything that they didn’t already know about the case Mueller is putting together on that front. The two new pieces of information are that Trump was clearly obsessed with former FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe, whose wife ran as a Democrat in Virginia and lost, and that before he fired Michael Flynn, Trump said “the guy has serious judgement issues.”

In the end, it looks like once again the people in charge of this investigation demonstrated that they can stay one step ahead of Donald Trump and his enablers. That is the major takeaway from this episode.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.