Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday night to release a controversial memo that Republicans say outlines the ways in which the FBI and the Department of Justice withheld information to inappropriately obtain a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The exact contents of the memo, which was written by committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes and Republican staffers, are not known because the three-and-a-half-page document is, itself, classified. It has been reported, however, that at the heart of the document—and Republican obfuscation—is the intelligence community did not disclose the information in the Steele dossier it was, in part, relying on was funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the DNC.
In deciding to declassify and release the document over the objections of the FBI and DOJ, the New York Times notes, the GOP “invoked a power never before used by the secretive committee.” The White House has indicated its support for releasing the memo, which Democrats say is the latest attempt by Republicans to muddy the waters on the Russia investigation and cast doubt on the FBI and the Justice Department, as well as the Mueller investigation writ large. By House rule, President Trump now has five days to review the memorandum, which has been seen by members of the full House, and decide whether to allow its release.
The memo is the latest defensive maneuver by Republicans in a growing effort to make the Mueller investigation appear to be the result of single salacious document uncritically ingested and prettied up by the FBI in order to justify a larger investigation, including surveillance, and ultimately the takedown of Donald Trump. It’s not hard to understand why Republicans are skeptical of relying solely on information that was paid for by the opposing Democratic campaign, even if that doesn’t necessarily discredit the information. Democrats would be skeptical too, if the roles were reversed.
If releasing the memo were aimed at shedding more light on what’s known so far by the Intelligence Committee, it could provide useful data points in the public’s evaluation of where things stand. But don’t count on it. Rep. Nunes has been far from a neutral arbiter since the launch of the various Russia investigations and until he kinda sorta recused himself, Nunes, who was among the dozen or so people to serve on Trump’s transition team, was leading the House investigation into the president once that transition was complete. To make matters appear even less on the level, while Republicans voted to release Nunes’ memo Monday, they simultaneously voted against releasing the Democrat’s own, presumably rebuttal, memo, Rep. Adam Schiff told reporters. Republicans now are fully committed to investigating the investigators.
There are also indications that the Republicans are overplaying the role of the Steele memo because its outrageousness fits neatly into the narrative that U.S. intelligence community is against Trump. “People familiar with the underlying application have portrayed the Republican memo as misleading in part because Mr. Steele’s information was insufficient to meet the standard for a FISA warrant,” according to the New York Times. “They said the application drew on other intelligence material that the Republican memo selectively omits. That other information remains highly sensitive, and releasing it would risk burning other sources and methods of intelligence-gathering about Russia.”