If nothing else, President Trump’s biggest supporter in the House of Representatives, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif), has found a way to distract attention away from the investigation of the President, Russian interference, and collusion by his campaign during the 2016 election – and that may be the real purpose of the “secret” memo everybody in Washington is talking about.
Now, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee led by ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff of California are preparing their own “secret” memo drawing on the same highly classified information gathered as part of the investigation.
— The Hill (@thehill) January 24, 2018
The Democrat’s memo is meant to be a counter-balance to the four-page document prepared by Nunes and the Republicans because it is widely rumored to include information showing the FBI and others in the intelligence community had an anti-Trump bias which fueled the Trump-Russia investigation and has since been used to undermine the Trump presidency.
Schiff says that House Intelligence Democrats have drafted their own memo "exposing the misleading character of the Republicans’ document so that members of the House are not left with an erroneous impression of the dedicated professionals at the FBI and DOJ." pic.twitter.com/uYC1zHRBRS
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 24, 2018
Nunes is a close friend and active supporter of Trump who has gotten in trouble before for leaking evidence the Intel committee uncovered to the White House even before it was shared with committee members.
Nunes had to step down as committee chair last March until he was whitewashed recently by a House Ethics committee dominated by his fellow Republicans.
Now that he is chairman of the committee again, he is using his power to help Trump by confusing the situation and moving the spotlight to alleged misdeeds by the FBI, particularly in its use of FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrants, which allow for the secret recording of calls by those identified as possible foreign agents.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the most ultra-right wing members of Congress, claims the memo shows the FBI behavior is “worse than Watergate.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, who heads the Tea Party/right-wing caucus in the House, claims it is an “absolutely shocking display” of FISA abuses.
The buzz around the Nunes memo seems to be generated solely by the fact that only a handful of people have seen it. That group includes Republicans on the Intel committee, and there is a debate about whether it should be shared with others in congress, and even whether to give it a public release.
There is a vote expected Monday on whether to release it to others in Congress and/or the public as soon as next week, after which Trump would have the right to keep it classified or release it.
Trump is said to have been briefed on the memo and is expected to approve its release because Rep. Nunes wrote it precisely to paint a highly favorable picture of the president’s role in the Russia probe.
Right wing Republicans have been trying to pump-up the mystery surrounding the memo with a campaign on Twitter and elsewhere called #ReleaseTheMemo.
WikiLeaks, which works with Russian intelligence, has also been putting out lots of stuff calling for the release of the memo, even offering $1 million to anyone who leaks it to them for general release.
Democrats, however, say that all Nunes has done is used information selectively to try and create a cloud of smoke around the real subject of the investigation – how the Russians and Trump worked together to get him elected president, raising questions about the very legitimacy of his administration.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has stated unequivocally that the memo is a lot of baloney.
“Let me as clear as I can be in an unclassified setting: the Nunes memo is a deliberately misleading document.”
So it has fallen to Schiff, a former prosecutor, to create a counter-balance, so if the Nunes version is made public, there will be another document to provide what Democrats believe is the real story.
Schiff says that the House Intel committee Democrats memo will expose “the misleading character of the Republican’s document so that members of the House are not left with an erroneous impression of the dedicated professionals at the FBI and DOJ.
The FBI and DOJ have not been allowed to see the memo as of yet and object to it being shown more widely or released before they get a chance to provide their input. The DOJ says that to release it before they comment would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
The Justice Department warns that it "would be extraordinarily reckless" for the House Intelligence Committee to release a classified memo publicly without review https://t.co/NomfDyyeUj pic.twitter.com/z6kb5EqYmd
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 25, 2018
However, that is not how hit jobs work. Nunes, it appears, is not looking for truth and justice so much as a diversion from Trump’s guilt and a way to confuse the situation and move the investigation to the corruption of the FBI, which in itself is a huge insult to a very professional and dedicated organization.
“Rife with factual inaccuracies and referencing highly classified materials that most of Republican Intelligence Committee members were forced to acknowledge they had never read, this is meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI,” Schiff said in a statement.
Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) also charged that the hashtag #ReleaseThe Memo is being used by the alt-right and conservatives to push for release.
They also say that it is being promoted on social media by accounts linked to Russian influence peddlers and their thousands of bots that constantly push out propaganda messages.
BREAKING: CNN has found that over 1,000 accounts pushing the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag were created within days of those posts being made.
You can NOT deny that those on the right, including Russians, are likely responsible for pushing this made-up story.
Don't let them win!
— Brian Krassenstein
In a letter to Facebook, Schiff and Feinstein say that data from social media shows that hashtag is by far the most tweeted by Russian bots.
“If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process,” they write.
So, well Trump waits to see if and when he will give sworn testimony to Special Counsel Robert Muller about his and his campaign’s connections to the Russian interference operation, his allies like Nunes are doing all they can to muddy the waters surrounding the investigations.
American institutions with impeccable reputations are collateral damage in the Republican effort to save Trump.
Ron Hosko, who formerly headed the FBI’s investigative division, said all of this is hurting morale in the bureau.
Hosko told The Daily Beast that “members of Congress were acting reckless and peddling conspiracy theories.”
“I think there are people who are intent on damaging the FBI,” said Hosko, “facts be damned.”
If there is a comparison to Watergate, it is not what the FBI or various intelligence agencies have done, but the dirty tricks by Republicans who want to salvage the failing administration of the most dishonest and by many accounts the worst president in modern American history.