After the Nunes memo — and predictable Trump tweetstorm — Washington needs a time-out
Feb 05, 2018 | 10:40 AM
A spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) said the adjustments were only “minor edits.”
Last week, in anticipation of the release of Rep. Devin Nunes’ much-heralded but one-sided classified memo impugning the integrity of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice, we wrote that it was a “diabolical” tactic because whatever claims the House Intelligence Committee chairman produced, they could not be immediately refuted because the information was classified. We were fundamentally wrong in that view, and we apologize. Turns out, Representative Nunes couldn’t even make a one-sided case especially well; his four-page memo is a muddled mess that’s mostly about Carter Page and information collected about him by Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer. As it turns out, nobody needs additional classified information to question the veracity of this latest effort to shield President Donald Trump from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Completely unsurprisingly, after several days of examination, the Nunes document isn’t standing up to scrutiny, and President Trump has gone where he usually goes when he wants to take a policy argument to a coarser, less fact-dependent place — Twitter. On Monday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted that the ranking Democrat on Mr. Nunes’ committee and the perhaps the memo’s lead critic, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, is “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington” and, of course, gave him a title, “Little Adam Schiff,” an insult about height being a Trump go-to attack (just ask Sen. Marco Rubio, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, or Sen. Bob Corker).
Mr. Schiff may be a California congressman, but he’s a Massachusetts native so, perhaps still smarting from Sunday’s Super Bowl loss, he returned fire suggesting the president stop tweeting “false smears” during “Executive Time” (which is allegedly what the president’s staff euphemistically calls the hours Mr. Trump devotes to watching TV and tweeting).
The “American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or...really anything else,” the congressman snapped back.
Admittedly, that’s a pretty good comeback. But it’s foolish to get into a Twitter fight with Mr. Trump, as that’s something he actually knows something about. And if one is going to call the president out on Twitter, better to go after his earlier tweet — the one where he said the Nunes memo had vindicated him and that “collusion” was “dead.” Even the president’s defenders in Congress don’t make that claim. The Nunes memo is about how a FISA warrant was obtained against Mr. Page and how much information came from the Steele dossier, not about Mr. Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the last election. This surely isn’t a “witch hunt” as Mr. Trump so often likes to claim because there have already been guilty pleas entered.
And speaking of guilty — or at least mighty suspicious — are Republicans really anxious to continue Mr. Nunes’ line of questioning that suggests the FBI had no reason to suspect Mr. Page of any relationship with Russian leadership? Weirdly, it appears the FISA warrant Mr. Nunes is all unhappy about was obtained after September 2016 when Mr. Page stepped down as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign — but two months after he had delivered a speech at the Moscow Institute that was highly critical of U.S. and other Western countries for taking such a hard line with Russia. Whether the Steele dossier is valid opposition research written by someone who is an acknowledged expert on Russian intelligence or a Democrat-financed hit job, the FBI clearly had plenty of other reasons to be scrutinizing Mr. Page as well as colleagues like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.
Releasing the Democratic memo that attempts to fill in some of the holes left by the Nunes memo would be a welcome return to, if not bipartisanship, a point-counterpoint approach to partisanship. But the public actually deserves more than that. What’s needed is a lot less hysteria and a lot more thoughtful contemplation of serious issues. If Republicans believe the country’s FISA standards are a problem, they should speak up and propose changes. If they believe the FBI has become some kind of deep-state partisan goon squad, they ought to offer less flimsy evidence than uncovering a few career FBI agents who vote for Democrats (or are married to one). Partisan memos, bizarre claims of widespread conspiracies (involving GOP appointees of all things) and early morning Twitter storms are no way to implement national security policy, and they are certainly ill-suited to deciding whether laws were broken at the highest levels of government.