Nunes memo proves nothing but the fact Republicans will do anything to undermine Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia Probe

If America's priority is finding out how Moscow interfered in 2016 election, what we saw today helped nobody

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Friday 02 February 2018 20:39 GMT
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Trump made clear he wanted the memo released as quickly as possible
Trump made clear he wanted the memo released as quickly as possible (Getty)

We waited. We were told it was going to be massive. Then it dropped. And, well….

One of the most hotly-anticipated political documents of recent years was finally made public and it told us an awful lot, while also telling us very little.

One thing it confirmed is that the environment surrounding Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election has become utterly politicised; whatever conclusions Mueller now reaches, people are likely to believe what they want to depending on their political persuasion.

A second thing it underscored is that Donald Trump and the Republicans will go to any lengths and twist any situation, to undermine the investigation and distance it from the President.

Some important background: the memo was drawn up by members of the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Republican Devin Nunes, a California congressman who had been forced to recuse himself from his committee’s own Russia probe as House investigators looked into ethics charges.

Democrats claim the memo is politically-motivated and aimed at undermining Mueller. As Democrats sought to block its release, a campaign launched by conservative media pushed for it to be made public, something that was embraced by Trump.

Trump’s own Department of Justice said releasing it would be “reckless”. The FBI said it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy”.

What then, are we left with in this highly political document of questionable accuracy?

Donald Trump says Nunes memo is declassified and Congress will "do whatever" with it

Much of it is taken up with what the committee says are abuses by the DoJ and FBI under the Obama administration in the way it obtained a special warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to monitor a US citizen under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

It says that on October 21 2016, the FBI obtained a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser. The warrant was renewed three times.

Part of the information put before the court was provided by former British spy Christopher Steele, who had gathered opposition research on Trump as a sub-contractor for Fusion GPS, a Washington firm that was first paid by a wealthy Republican donor and later by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The memo says at no point was Steele’s involvement mentioned, or that he had been paid in part by the Clinton campaign.

This may well be true. Yet, a major challenge in assessing the veracity of the memo is that we have been prevented - by the Republicans - of seeing the attendant document produced by Democrats on the committee that sought to answer the Republicans’ points.

Several other things are important. Firstly, because of these omissions, we don’t know what other information may have been put before the FISA court, and the memo acknowledges the Steele information was only part of it.

The Washington Post wrote last year: “The government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government.”

The New York Times said that to issue a warrant, “a judge must agree that there is reason to believe the target was knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence activities for a foreign power that violate American criminal laws”.

It is also crucial to bear in mind FBI has already revealed it launched its Russia probe after being tipped off by an Australian diplomat about possible Russian links to another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos. That dated to May 2016 - five months before it sought the warrant for Page. (The memo even admits it was concerns about Papadopoulos that triggered the FBI probe.)

Page has been questioned several times by Mueller’s team. Last year, he told The Independent he was guilty of no crimes and had nothing to fear.

On Friday, Page said the memo was evidence of “brave and assiduous” overnight by congress. He is suing the DoJ.

Amid all the acronyms and the cast of frequently forgettable characters, what is the American public to make of all this? Can it trust the FBI, can it trust the DOJ, can it trust Mueller?

The right wing media has already decided it can not. “Disgrace,” yelled the main headline on the Drudge Report, beneath an FBI logo.

“FBI Knew Dossier Funded by Clinton/DNC, Relied on It Anyway,” said Breitbart News.

Fox News went with: “Bombshell doc says blabbing British spy’s dossier paid for by Clinton, key to Trump snooping warrant”.

In recent weeks, it has become clear that Mueller wants to speak with Trump. It has also been reported that for all his swagger, Trump’s lawyers are worried about such a scenario. They are concerned about the President’s ability to stick to a legally-agreed script and not to say something incriminating.

What we saw today was the latest attempt by the Republicans and Donald Trump to throw mud on the process, even before it has been concluded.

And if the most important priority is getting to the bottom of whether or not Moscow interfered in the 2016 election - and if so, how to stop it doing so in the future - then what we saw today helped nobody. Except, perhaps, the Russians.

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