Most of you who follow the news and read this site know exactly what is going on with Devin Nunes’ memo, but now that President Trump is likely to clear the way for its release as soon as today, a few points are worth highlighting.
What’s In the Memo? — The memo is expected to denounce the FBI for seeking a FISA warrant to surveil Trump foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, because — the Nunes memo argues — the FBI used as the basis for the warrant the Steele Dossier, the curation of which was paid for by Democrats. The Nunes Memo also takes issue with the fact that Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, renewed the warrant.
What’s Not in the Memo — The 4-page memo, which cherry picks from information from a 50-page document, is not expected to include the fact that the basis for the warrant came from several other sources, including Trump advisor George Papadopoulos, who got drunk with an Australian diplomat and told him that the Russians were helping the Trump campaign get dirt on Hillary. There could be numerous other sources, as well, because the FBI has had its eyes on Carter Page since 2013, long before he was in the Trump campaign. The memo will also not include the fact that the Steele Dossier come from an opposition research firm that Republicans originally hired to do research on Donald Trump, nor is it likely to mention that much of what was in the Steele dossier has been confirmed.
The Republican Argument — Trump and hard-line Republicans will argue that, by basing the warrant to surveil Carter Page on the Steele dossier, the entire Russian investigation has been a corrupt, partisan witch hunt since the beginning, and that the FBI had no right to look into the affairs of Donald Trump, even before he was President. They will argue that the FBI has been working against Trump since the beginning, notwithstanding the fact that several FBI actions damaged the Clinton campaign, nor the fact that the FBI mentioned that Clinton was being investigated but did not mention before the election that Trump was being investigated. Trump may also use Rod Rosenstein’s decision to renew the warrant as a pretext for firing him.
Why Rod Rosenstein Is So Important — The Deputy Attorney General, who is a Trump appointee, is perhaps the most important figure in the Russian investigation, even more important than Bob Mueller. Rosenstein will ultimately decide what to do with the information that Bob Mueller collects. Rosenstein will decide if the information should be released, and who it should be released to. If Rosenstein wanted to, he could look at the intelligence Mueller has collected and decide that it’s not even worth Congress seeing it and stop the entire investigation in its tracks.
Rosenstein, by most sane accounts, is a fair-minded individual, so he’s not going to do that. However, if Trump fires Rosenstein, he may be able to get someone into that position who would shut down the investigation or refuse to release any of its conclusions to Congress or the media.
What’s at Stake — We are in the midst of a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre. Trump has fired James Comey. He has forced out Andrew McCabe. He fired Sally Yates. He may fire Rod Rosenstein, and he may even fire Bob Mueller.
It is unlikely, but the Nunes memo may also lead to the resignation of James Comey’s replacement, Christopher Wray, who many in the intelligence community are suggesting should be prepared to walk over this. What Trump and Nunes are engaged in, in effect, is an assault on the reputation of the FBI.
There’s not much in the Nunes’ memo — in fact, the White House fears that it may be a “dud” — but the memo itself is hardly the point. The point is — with the aide of folks like Sean Hannity (who is reportedly advising the President) — to create confusion and chaos, and sew distrust in the FBI and the DOJ. If the American public does not have faith in the FBI or the DOJ, Trump hopes, then perhaps they will not trust its findings in the Russian probe, thus sparing his Presidency. The Republicans are aiding the President’s efforts to ruin the reputation of two organizations with thousands of employees in an effort to save one man and further destabilize our democracy.