Bipartisan criticism for the Nunes memo

Friday the House Intelligence Committee released what has come to be known as the Nunes memo, a four-page criticism of the FBI’s investigation of Carter Page, someone who had been of interest to the bureau for years because of his contacts with Russia and who for a while in 2016 was associated with the Trump campaign. The memo has come in for criticism from the Department of Justice and the FBI itself for allegedly being incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading, and it has been more widely described as political rather than substantive.

The full text of the memo, together with detailed annotations providing additional background information, can be found on the NPR site here. A similarly annotated version can be read on the PBS NewsHour site here.

NPR also has a summary of the memo that points out omissions of fact that, at least to my eyes, make it clearly less than objective.

The release was cleared by President Trump and authorized by the Republicans on the House committee over the objections of its Democratic members. The Democrats produced their own memo explaining their objections, but the Republicans blocked its release. (Republican Speaker Paul Ryan has called for its publication.) But the Democratic co-chair, Representative Alan Schiff of California, appeared on PBS NewHour to summarize a number of objections.

Representative Schiff’s counterpart, Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement saying, “The release of this memo by House Intelligence Committee Republicans and the White House, over the objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice, is reckless and demonstrates an astonishing disregard for the truth.” He added, “Unlike almost every House member who voted in favor of this memo’s release, I have actually read the underlying documents on which the memo was based. They simply do not support its conclusions.”

The Democratic members of the committee jointly published their objections to the memo here. (Note that this is not the same as the one prepared for release by the House committee that Republicans on the committee blocked.)

A news article in The Week summarizes six major criticisms of the memo from various sources. In brief, Carter Page was no longer part of the campaign when the FBI secured a FISA warrant to wiretap Page, and he had been a person of interest to the FBI because of his contacts in Russian (including with Russian spies) long before the Trump campaign, facts the memo conveniently omits. The memo implies that the application was based solely on the so-called Steele dossier, while the FBI is believed to have referenced other sources as well. It attributes funding for dossier to Democrats, not mentioning that it was originally financed by a Republican opponent of Trump.

Criticism came also from Republicans in Congress, notably including Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), the Republican nominee for president in 2008, who responded to the Nunes memo’s release with the following statement:

In 2016, the Russian government engaged in an elaborate plot to interfere in an American election and undermine our democracy. Russia employed the same tactics it has used to influence elections around the world, from France and Germany to Ukraine, Montenegro, and beyond. Putin’s regime launched cyberattacks and spread disinformation with the goal of sowing chaos and weakening faith in our institutions. And while we have no evidence that these efforts affected the outcome of our election, I fear they succeeded in fueling political discord and dividing us from one another.

“The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.

Other Republicans objecting to the Nunes memo included Representative Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania) tweeted,
“As I have publicly stated on several occasions, it’s a mistake to release this memo. No Members of Congress — nor their staff — should risk divulging sensitive sources/methods of Intelligence for partisan gain. This sets a dangerous precedent that may have far reaching implications.”

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) echoed concerns of the Department of Justice and the FBI that classified information had not been redacted from the memo and said, “Oversight of the intelligence community, the FISA process, and this investigation are far too important to be tarnished by partisanship.”

Finally, James Comey, the FBI head fired last year by Trump for continuing the investigation of Russian meddling in the election, tweeted about the memo, “That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”

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