The Slatest

Today in Conservative Media: The Memo Isn’t What Republicans Said It Was, and That’s a Problem—or Not

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, answers questions following a committee meeting at the U.S. Capitol February 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Adam Schiff, Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, answers questions following a committee meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Monday in Washington.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Friday, the memo dropped on America, and the political and legal reverberations from its release continued over the weekend. The document was written by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, and purported to raise questions about how the FBI and Department of Justice went about getting a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016 during the heart of the presidential campaign. Trump, predictably, saw the memo as absolute vindication.

Some conservative outlets saw the memo much like the president, as exculpatory, and concluded that President Trump is the victim of an overzealous FBI and DOJ looking to dig up dirt, gin up an investigation by any means necessary, all in order to take down a president. Breitbart got increasingly wound up on the memo news as the weekend progressed:

“Finally Released, Memo Shows Widespread Abuse of Government Spying Power, Politicization of Justice Process” (Feb. 2)

“Memo Reveals Deep State/Media Coordination” (Feb. 2)

“16 Bombshells in the Nunes Memo the Media Do Not Want You to Know About” (Feb. 3)

“How the New York Times Spins the Memo to Divide America” (Feb.4)

But aside from the usual suspects offering up unfailing support for the president, others on the right interpreted the memo quite differently.

In the immediate aftermath on Friday, Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire found the document was not the smoking gun that many Republicans said it was. “[T]he memo provides evidence that if President Trump were to fire Mueller, he’d be doing so on the false pretense that the entire investigation was predicated on a Hillary/DOJ/FBI/Obama nexus of coordination,” Shapiro writes. “The memo itself disproves that notion.” National Review’s David French found similar problems with the GOP-authored document, particularly a glaring flaw in Republican lawmakers’ enthusiasm for its own version of events contained in the memo.

The problem? The memo undermined their fundamental criticism of the Russia investigation: that it was based on a dodgy document (the Steele dossier) that was paid for by Hillary Clinton, passed along to a Democratic administration’s FBI, and swallowed uncritically in order to cook up an investigation about a soon-to-be Republican president. The New York Times reported in December that the FBI, in fact, initiated its investigation in July 2016 in response to a tip from the Australians about Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who had told Australian diplomats in London that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked emails. This predates the FISA warrant, according to the Nunes memo, which wasn’t granted until months later, in October 2016. “Well, if the newly released Nunes memo is correct, House Republicans and the Trump administration just confirmed the Times’ scoop,” French writes. “In the process, they blew up their core argument against the investigation. The investigation isn’t the fruit of the poisonous dossier (though the dossier did play a role); it existed before the dossier.”

The editors at National Review weren’t willing to go quite as far as French (or Shapiro for that matter) in accepting that the memo proves that George Papadopoulos was the foundation upon which the Russia investigation was built, not the claims found in the Steele dossier. “The memo was always going to labor under unrealistic expectations. It couldn’t possibly live up to its advance billing from Sean Hannity and Co. that it was Watergate and the Lindbergh-baby kidnapping all wrapped into one,” the editors wrote over the weekend. “But it adds to our understanding of the beginnings of the Russia investigation and raises questions about its provenance.”

French followed up Monday with a piece titled: “The Memo Doesn’t Make Its Case.” Based on his military and legal experience, “the memo simply doesn’t provide sufficient evidence to support its quite explosive claims,” French writes. “Indeed, it gets less persuasive—and the material omissions more glaring—with each successive read. It might disclose the existence of troubling FBI misconduct, but the fair-minded reader has no way of knowing whether it does.” The best course of action now, French argues, is to release the testimony the memo drew upon and let the chips fall where they may.

On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo. Margot Cleveland at the Federalist saw this coming and offers: “We Don’t Need Democrats’ Memo To Know The FBI And DOJ Need House-Cleaning.”

In other news

Breitbart covered Trump’s trip to Ohio Monday, where the president continued to tout the Nunes memo. “Did we catch them in the act or what? You know what I’m talking about; oh did we catch them in the act,” Trump said. “They are very embarrassed. They never thought they were going to get caught—we caught ’em.” In Cincinnati, Breitbart picked up on Trump’s comments calling Democrats that didn’t stand and applaud during his State of the Union address “un-American” and “treasonous.”

Breitbart also chimed in on Sunday’s Super Bowl with a post on the national anthem titled: “Trump Declares Victory: ‘No Kneeling’ at the Super Bowl.” “We’ve made a lot of improvement, haven’t we?” Trump said. “That’s a big improvement.”

If you were looking for someone who hates Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Daily Wire has you covered: “Insufferable Trudeau Corrects Woman: Not ‘Mankind, ‘Peoplekind.’ ”