I Told You So, Mr. President
I have an “I told you so” to collect on the Nunes memo. It begins last Wednesday—actually Tuesday night with the State of the Union. That night, I sent out a tweet essentially saying the president might want to cool the #releasethememo movement: “Perhaps the wisest political course for @realDonaldTrump would be to DENY #ReleaseTheMemo. His supporters have already been inflamed over the contents and the only thing that happens with the release is that the contents undergo cross examination which they might not withstand”
Then, I followed up on Facebook and on POTUS:
My take? Until Friday, the president enjoyed the best of all worlds. GOP members of congress were quick to give interviews in conservative outlets talking about the dire picture the memo painted without any fear of being challenged on that assessment. The memo, we were told by one commentator, would make Watergate look like the “theft of a snickers”. That's impossible to refute when you can't taste the candy. As a result, the president's supporters were inflamed about a document none of them had actually read.
But now it's out - and subject to scrutiny. And whether it can withstand evidentiary analysis is an open question. I have my doubts, as I anticipated. The memo claims to prove a breakdown of the legal processes established to protect Americans. That’s what it says on page one. Read closely, and the story is not so straightforward.
The memo’s focus is Carter Page, who was on the FBI radar before the rise of Donald Trump and whose role the Trump campaign and the president have gone to great lengths to minimize up until now. The key claim? Page was surveilled with the approval of a FISA court, based on an October 21, 2016 probable-cause order that relied on intel that the court did not know was paid for by the Clinton campaign.
I think that funding source should have been revealed - and so too, the fact that the original Fusion GPS client (pre-Christopher Steele) was a conservative media outlet, the Washington Free Beacon. And according to recent reporting, Democrats claim in their response memo that the court did in fact know where the intelligence came from.
Even if more had been told to the FISA court about the funding, it's not at all clear to me that the FISA order would not have been issued.
Who is to say that with Steele’s credibility as a former British agent, the FISA court would not still have been swayed? After all, Christopher Steele wasn't employed by the DNC or Hillary. He was hired by Fusion GPS.
And then there is the date of the first - of 4 ! - FISA applications: October 21, the final days of the presidential campaign. The WikiLeaks dump had already taken place. The third and final presidential debate was two days prior. If the aim were to undermine the Trump campaign and prevent his election, you'd think this "deep state" apparatus would have mobilized much sooner, no? And maybe would have made the investigation public?
And, actually, the Russia investigation was underway before Carter Page, as referenced in the final paragraph of the Nunes memo. It began in July, 2016, three months before the first FISA court application. The reason it started? A Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos, told an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
There's more, but here's the point: Are there troubling questions raised by the Nunes memo? Yes. For example, the claim that an associate deputy attorney general’s wife was working for Fusion GPS and was involved in opposition research on Trump is troublesome and worthy of further examination. Likewise, the way the FBI responded to the memo—acting as if it was all out war on them—makes me wonder how much I can trust them either.
However, much more importantly, this memo does not undermine Robert Mueller's probe into Russian manipulation of our election and potential obstruction of justice. This point seems lost on the conservative media and the president, though. Friday night, Sean Hannity opened his program with a monologue that sounded chicken little-like.
And Saturday morning, President Trump tweeted this:
“This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian witch hunt goes on and on. Their was no collusion and there was no obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding nothing, collusion is dead). This is an american disgrace!”
No, it doesn’t vindicate. Not where President Trump once sought to distance himself from Carter Page and now seeks to wrap himself in him. Not where the FISA order might have been issued even if the court knew the funding source. Not where Page was on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013, having nothing to do with candidate or President Trump. Not where the October 21, 2016 FISA request was three months after the Russia inquiry had been opened because of George Papodopoulos. Not where each of the four FISA hearings would have required a separate showing of probable cause. And, not where by the time of the October 21 FISA request, the election was just about over, so any intelligence gained by surveilling Page would have helped Clinton. We’ll know definitively whether releasing the memo was a mistake once the Democrat response is released (and/or we see the underlying evidence).
One final thought: The most important man in Washington is now Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is in charge of the Mueller probe. The more talk about the Nunes memo and abuses of the FBI, the harder and more important his job becomes. On Friday, after the Nunes memo was released, President Trump was asked if he might fire Rosenstein. He said: “You figure that one out.” Clearly, Rosenstein has a political target on his back. But if the basis is information like that which was produced in the Nunez memo, there is absolutely no reason for him to leave his post.