By: Connor McNairn, Columnist
On Friday, California Rep. Devin Nunes – a Republican who serves as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – released a memorandum purporting that the FBI is supposedly biased against Donald Trump, and that the agency misused its surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The key focus of Nunes’ memo surrounds Trump’s former foreign policy adviser Carter Page. According to Nunes, the means through which the FBI acquired surveillance permission under FISA was flawed and corrupt. In the memo, Nunes alleges that the Justice Department and FBI relied on the infamous Steele dossier – the unverified, Democratically-motivated report on President Trump’s alleged misdeeds in Russia and beyond, which was authored by a British spy – to gain approval for surveillance on Page. Nunes argues that this dossier, whose author apparently harbors disdain for the president, played a central role in the FBI’s eventual surveillance ventures.
But convenient for Nunes, Republicans and the president, the memo fails to detail any other evidence that the FBI and Justice Department had obtained when pursuing further surveillance of Page. And while many Republicans have claimed that the Steele dossier was the FBI’s only source of intelligence to inspire the Page investigation, the memo, perhaps self-destructively, does acknowledge that initial Russia inquiries stemmed from George Papadopoulos’s – another former Trump aide – failure to disclose Russian contacts during the campaign. Moreover, the memo also conveniently forgets to mention that the FBI and Justice Department were able to regularly and repeatedly gain FISA judge approval of surveillance because the agencies were able to deliver actionable intelligence.
So, why does any of this even matter? If Devin Nunes and conservative conspiracy theorists wish to congregate and publish half-baked conspiracy theories, how do these behaviors impact the American people?
In this particular instance, because the memo targets the behavior of America’s top intelligence agencies, and because those agencies happen to be investigating the president and his appointed officials, these developments are actually quite troubling.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Trump campaign have grown stronger since the investigation’s inception in May 2017. Since then, the investigation has acquired cooperation from key members of the Trump team, such as Papadopoulos, former national security advisor to the president Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. As the investigation continues to narrow in on Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, Nunes’s baseless memo proves nothing more than a feeble partisan attempt at misguiding the American public.
To say that the FBI is a flawless and strictly objective agency is to be intellectually dishonest; but for a GOP lawmaker to use weak – no, flawed – evidence to inspire community distrust in an appointed special counsel undermines the credibility of this nation’s most fundamental and imperative bipartisan institutions. Furthermore, Nunes’s antics have been used to blatantly advance the views and well-being of the president in light of potential criminal charges against the commander-in-chief.
Nunes’s memo is a tremendous and egregious piece of partisan finagling. Even Trump’s Department of Justice urged House Republicans not to release the memo, as its information and accuracy were, at best, mediocre.
Even so, Nunes and the Republican Congress remain insistent on advancing the narrative that the FBI was and continues to remain fixated on fulfilling the needs of Democratic operatives and candidates. That said, the very same agency, through its late release of the reopened investigation into the Clinton emails, arguably helped the Republican Party just days before the election in achieving its eventual presidential victory.
There is no shame in questioning the efficacy and fairness of our law enforcement institutions. But when a major political party manipulates intelligence and frames these institutions through dishonest and lazy memorandums in efforts to protect an embattled president for partisan gains, the very fabric of our democracy is at risk.