The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans launch extraordinary new tactics to protect Trump on Russia

President Trump (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)


Republicans may be on the verge of publicly releasing a secret memo compiled by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of President Trump’s most devoted bodyguards against accountability on Capitol Hill, that purports to show serious misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department toward the Trump campaign. The memo is the latest effort to build an alt-narrative that casts the FBI’s Russia probe — which became special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe — as a Deep State Coup to remove Trump from power.

Byron York reports that around 200 House Republicans have privately read the Nunes memo, and GOP leaders may release it in one or two weeks. This comes after Trump’s allies — including his son — have called for the memo’s release.

In an interview with me this morning, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) — who is Nunes’s Democratic counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee — pushed back hard, alleging that the memo presents a profoundly doctored picture of what the classified information actually shows.

“It’s highly distorted spin by Nunes,” Schiff told me. “The Nunes spin memo distorts the underlying materials and has presented Members with a very misleading impression of what those materials show.”

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Schiff also made a striking claim: He said that in allowing the memo to be accessed in a classified setting by House Republicans, Nunes has violated an agreement with the FBI and the Justice Department. Schiff added that its public release would also violate that agreement. The GOP leaders on the intel committee have allowed members of Congress to access the document, but Democrats charge this is merely an effort to arm them with misleading talking points to attack the FBI on Trump’s behalf.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) responds to former FBI Director James Comey's prepared testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee saying, “it is certainly evidence of interference or obstruction.” (Video: Washington Post Live)

“The release of the materials by the chairman violated an agreement he entered into with the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Schiff told me, in a reference to the release of the memo to the membership of the House for reading. “The agreement was because of the sensitivity of the materials to limit their distribution,” Schiff also said. “There were certain conditions attached to the viewing of the materials which have been violated.”

Asked if it would violate the agreement if the memo were to be released publicly, Schiff said: “Of course.” He added that this was revealing that there may be “no limit” to “how far Nunes and the majority are willing to go to protect the president from the Russia investigation.”

Schiff declined to go into more detail. But he also told me that he’d offered a motion on the committee that would delay the release of the memo until all its members could get access to the underlying material, but Republicans voted it down on party lines.

“That’s pretty telling,” Schiff said. Asked repeatedly to detail how the memo distorts the underlying info, Schiff said he could not because the materials are classified. A Nunes spokesman didn’t immediately return an email for comment.

The memo created by Nunes purports to document classified information that shows serious misconduct by top FBI and Justice Department officials in getting authority from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to conduct secret surveillance on Trump campaign officials, in particular former foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Three people who have seen the memo told Politico that it also raises questions about the role of the so-called “Steele Dossier” in prompting that surveillance.

Thus, the Nunes memo appears to be the latest effort to delegitimize the Russia probe by painting it as born of partisan dirty tricks and an illegitimate abuse of power. Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored that dossier, testified that the FBI viewed his memo as corroboration of already-collected information, and the FBI reportedly began its probe (which became the Mueller investigation) after learning that a Trump aide knew of dirt Russia had collected on Hillary Clinton.

Opinion writers Charles Lane, Molly Roberts, Jennifer Rubin and Dana Milbank discuss the likelihood of President Trump sitting for a Russia probe interview. (Video: The Washington Post)

A campaign to discredit the Russia probe

But the campaign to discredit the Russia investigation continues unabated, and the Nunes memo is at the center of it. Donald Trump Jr. has tweeted nonstop for the release of the memo, and Trump’s media allies are using its existence to call for Mueller to close his investigation down.

Meanwhile, the political meddling with the FBI appears to be continuing on another front: Axios reports that FBI Director Christopher A. Wray has threatened to resign over pressure on him from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire a top FBI official whose removal Trump has been demanding, allegedly because he’s a Clinton ally.

To be clear, it is of course appropriate for Congress to be exercising oversight on FBI/DOJ treatment of the FISA process. But as Neema Guliani, legislative counsel at the ACLU, told me, “selective release of facts is not true transparency,” and that instead, we should be pushing for a broader release of “the FISA court application, opinion, and any relevant communications with the intelligence court about these matters.”

We don’t know what the Nunes memo will say. But in a sense, it may end up constituting the opposite of true transparency — a selective release of cherry-picked info that will give Republicans ammunition to shield Trump from accountability, secure in the knowledge that the full set of facts allowing us to gauge the memo’s accuracy will not be released.

* MAN THREATENS TO KILL ‘FAKE NEWS’ CNN EMPLOYEES: A Michigan man has been arrested after calling CNN headquarters numerous times and threatening murder:

Brandon Griesemer made 22 calls to CNN on January 9 and January 10 and four calls, which were recorded, contained threats, according to the affidavit … “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down,” said the caller, who cursed and used an expletive directed at African-Americans, the affidavit said.

Despite this, Trump is already tweeting about “Fake News CNN” again.

* WHAT’S NEXT, AFTER THE SHUTDOWN FIGHT: The New York Times looks at the bipartisan group of moderate senators who negotiated the short-term exit from the government shutdown and notes:

At least for now, the group … fulfilled the hope … that a centrist contingent could bridge an otherwise deeply divided Senate. The question was whether it could hold together long enough to forge a much grander bargain over a disparate set of pressing issues before Congress: Raising limits on domestic and military spending, providing disaster relief to storm-ravaged states and a more comprehensive immigration deal to address the Dreamers and border security.

And, of course, the problem is compounded by the need to get whatever the Senate can agree upon through the House.

* SENATORS HOPE TO JAM THE HOUSE: The Post reports that this bipartisan group of senators is hoping to negotiate a deal on “dreamers” and immigration that passes with a large majority, forcing House Republicans to accept it. As Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) puts it:

“There’s going to be an awful lot of pressure. What, are they going to start with members of the military? Are they going to deport them? Are they going to start with the teachers? Are they going to start with the college student that’s in med school? At a certain point, the American people want these young people to have protection.”

This is right. It will not be easy for Trump and House Republicans to do nothing to protect the dreamers, no matter how much crowing they are doing now.

* CONSERVATIVES PUSH DEEP IMMIGRATION CUTS: CNN reports that House conservatives are demanding a vote on Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) bill, which would only extend DACA, rather than offer dreamers a path to legalization. And:

The Goodlatte proposal contains a number of contentious provisions that would be difficult to pass with even just Republican votes, including mandatory worker verification, cracking down on sanctuary cities, changing asylum thresholds and cutting legal immigration to the US by 25%, according to bill authors.

The fact that this approach might not even pass the House means it’s at least possible that we could see a less-awful negotiated solution.


How concerned are you that Trump might launch a nuclear attack without justification – very concerned, somewhat concerned, not so concerned, or not concerned at all?

A total of 53 percent are either “very concerned” (33) or “somewhat concerned” (20) about this. Only 33 percent trust Trump. Reassuring, isn’t it?

* TRUMP HAS ZERO CREDIBILITY, AND THAT’S A PROBLEM: Paul Krugman looks at the profound bad faith from Trump that led to the government shutdown, and adds:

Who can we count on to be a reliable ally, when no country knows whether America will stand by it if it needs help? So far, at least, financial markets continue to regard the U.S. government as trustworthy … But does this government have any reserve of financial credibility if something should go wrong? Probably not.

This gets more worrisome when you remember that Trump is barely one-fourth of the way through his first term.

* TRUMP WANTS ‘BIG WIN’ FOR DREAMERS: Trump tweeted this late last night:

By “DACA,” Trump appears to mean the dreamers, so here Trump is again saying he wants to protect them while telegraphing he will demand concessions in exchange for doing it. Regardless, this isn’t over.