By Michael Smerconish | February 10, 2018
In my opening commentary on CNN last week, I said, with regard to the House Intel Committee and the Russia investigation, that we needed to see everything. By that, I meant not only the notorious 4-page Nunes memo but also the 10-page Democratic response and even the underlying intelligence if possible. Transparency demands no less.
The Committee apparently agreed with me. After the release of the Nunes memo, its members voted unanimously to release the Democratic response. But now the White House has said no.
In a Friday night news dump, White House counsel Donald McGahn said that the Justice Department had identified portions of the memo that “would create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests”. That sounds compelling – unless you stop and consider that the FBI had issued a statement saying it had “grave concerns” about the release of the Nunes memo and that did not stop the White House.
Here is what is really going on. The Nunes memo did not live up to the hype. It was ultimately an embarrassment to all those who promoted it as showing FBI corruption when we couldn’t see it. And, in all probability, that will be made even more clear if the Democratic response sees the light of day.
Before the release of the Nunes memo, the president was in a great position, politically speaking. Republican members of the House Intel Committee gave interviews in friendly outlets painting a dire picture of what the memo revealed, while saying they could not speak to its specific contents. That left no opportunity for anyone to challenge their assessment. Of course, the lack of ability to cross examine did not deter their media enablers. They promoted the idea that Nunes memo undermined the entire Mueller probe. One commentator said it would make Watergate look like the theft of a Snickers.
The memo itself promoted that type of thinking. In its introduction, it claimed to evidence a breakdown of the legal processes established to protect Americans. But it didn’t live up to the billing.
Instead, it sought to politically resurrect the importance of Carter Page, an individual the president and his campaign had gone to great lengths to diminish. The key claim was that Page was surveilled based on an initial FISA court order obtained without court knowledge of who paid for the underlying intel. But it’s not clear that the investigator, former British spy Christopher Steele, himself knew who was funding the intelligence gathering. More importantly, Carter Page was on the radar of the FBI long before the political rise of Trump. And the Russian probe began three months before the initial FISA request regarding Carter Page. The point is that the Russian probe was begun before, and independent of, Page.
Look, this entire issue requires a deep dive into the weeds. Last Saturday, my mother told me she enjoyed my program, but said, “I couldn’t follow your commentary on that Russian business.”
That’s what the White House is banking on. That the Russia ordeal is confusing. That few of us will read-in and comprehend what it’s all about. And that their enablers will boil it all down to a misleading sound bite or tweet. They were able to do that before the release of the Nunes memo and now they want to turn back the clock.