THE MORNING PLUM:
Something remarkable is happening in our politics right now. On multiple fronts, it has fallen to Democratic elected officials to step up and defend the integrity and basic functionings of our government — against Republican efforts to pervert and manipulate them in service of the goal of shielding President Trump from accountability.
At the same time, in some cases Democrats have escalated their tactics in a kind of guerrilla operation designed to smuggle as much basic information about this great GOP abdication out to the public as possible.
Today, I’m told, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) — the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — will publicly say that classified information debunks the arguments reportedly made in the now-notorious secret memo by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), which bolsters the idea that the Russia investigation is a Deep-State Coup against Trump. Nunes has made this memo available to members of Congress, in what Democrats charge is a selective cherry-picking of intelligence designed to arm Republicans with talking points to discredit the Russia probe.
“Senator Warner will say publicly that unlike almost all of the 200 GOP congressmen who’ve seen the memo, he has actually read the underlying documents,” Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Warner, emailed me this morning. “He is confident that there was nothing improper like what this memo seems to allege.”
Nunes, at the urging of Trump’s allies, may soon release the memo, which purports to show that the FBI and Justice Department abused the surveillance process to target the Trump campaign, apparently to show that the Russia probe is an illegitimate abuse of power. The memo by Nunes — the chair of the House Intelligence Committee — reportedly says the application for a FISA surveillance warrant to target campaign adviser Carter Page was improperly based on information from former British spy Christopher Steele that was bankrolled by Democrats.
But it appears that the underlying application undermines this case. Warner is prepared to say this today, and the New York Times also reports new information on this front:
People familiar with the underlying application have portrayed the Republican memo as misleading in part because Mr. Steele’s information, which was also compiled into a notorious dossier, was insufficient to meet the standard for a FISA warrant. The application, they said, drew on other intelligence that the Republican memo misleadingly omits — but revealing that other information to rebut the memo would risk blowing other sources and methods of intelligence-gathering about Russia.
If this is true, then the Nunes memo not only falsifies the role of the “Steele dossier” in securing the warrant; it also self-secures its own cherry-picking against outside scrutiny. That’s because the underlying information that would reveal why the warrant was granted cannot be revealed for national security reasons.
In another effort to counter the apparent Nunes disinformation campaign, Rep. Adam Schiff — Nunes’s Democratic counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee — announced that he would produce his own report purportedly debunking the Nunes memo and will ask the committee to allow members of Congress to view it, too, in effect (again) smuggling bits of counter-information out to the public.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department released a letter to Nunes arguing that the memo’s release would compromise intelligence operations and would deviate from a “good faith” arrangement on the terms of access to classified info negotiated between the Justice Department, the House Intelligence Committee and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. It is unclear whether Ryan has blessed the “release the memo” strategy, but it probably wouldn’t go forward without his tacit approval. Given that the Justice Department says its release would be dangerous and would violate a deal Ryan himself entered into, I asked Ryan’s office today whether he disputes that claim and whether he supports the memo’s release. I got no response.
Democrats escalate their tactics on multiple fronts
All this is happening on multiple other fronts. Trump officials have conceded that he’s failing to protect our elections against future Russia sabotage, because he won’t diminish his great victory by admitting it happened last time at all. So Foreign Relations Committee Democrats released a report detailing this abdication for the public. Republicans keep pushing the idea that the Steele dossier sparked the FBI probe. So Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) released the testimony by a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that bankrolled Steele, in which he challenged that account. In these cases, independent reporting has confirmed Trump’s failure to secure our elections and that the GOP’s account of the FBI probe’s genesis is bogus.
Still more: House Intelligence Committee Democrats are mulling a minority report that would detail the ways Nunes frustrated a full accounting into the conduct of Trump and his top officials, once again detailing this great abdication for the public. And so on.
The Russia probe, of course, may clear Trump and/or his associates of wrongdoing. But what’s at issue here is whether there will also be a full accounting into what Russia did to undermine our elections and democracy. One party is trying to frustrate and discredit this accounting, and is perverting the basic workings of government to do so. The other party is trying to defend those workings and to facilitate that accounting — and to get word out to the public about what’s really happening here.
* TRUMP THINKS HE CAN SALES-PITCH MUELLER: Trump has now said he is “looking forward” to speaking under oath with Robert S. Mueller III to clear his name. The New York Times reports this:
People familiar with Mr. Trump’s thinking have long described private conversations with the president in which he has said he is eager to meet with Mr. Mueller, a product of his belief that he can sell or coax almost anyone into seeing things his way.
Of course, after his wrongdoing in the private sector, he could just throw his team of lawyers at the problem. Here, maybe not so much.
* TRUMP’S LAWYER BACKTRACKS: Of course, Trump’s lawyer is already saying Trump didn’t really mean it:
Ty Cobb … said Mr. Trump was speaking hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet. “He’s ready to meet with them, but he’ll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel,” Mr. Cobb said. He said the arrangements were being worked out between Mr. Mueller’s team and the president’s personal lawyers.
Trump’s lawyers will be pushing for as many limits on open-ended questioning as possible (despite Trump’s claim he’s looking forward to it).
* WHITE HOUSE TO INTRODUCE PLAN FOR ‘DREAMERS’: The Post reports on the next steps:
White House aides said the president would release a complete “framework” on Monday. The aides said that plan probably would grant immediate provisional legal status to those immigrants covered by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that he terminated in the fall. That group would then be eligible to pursue full citizenship over 10 to 12 years.
The real question is what concessions this framework will demand in exchange for doing what Trump himself says is the right thing to do. Probably the Stephen Miller-nativist wish list again.
* A BIG UNRESOLVED QUESTION ABOUT THE DREAMERS: David Nakamura makes an important point about the coming battle over the dreamers:
The number of immigrants who arrived under age 18 is estimated to be as high as 3.6 million — about one-third of the total undocumented population of 11 million. The number covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals when Trump terminated the Obama-era program last fall is dramatically lower: 690,000. It is within this vast range that lawmakers must decide how many, ultimately, are eligible for permanent legal status and, potentially, citizenship.
And so, the Stephen Miller crowd will be pushing not just for cuts to legal immigration in any deal but also protections for as few people brought here as children as possible.
* WHY A DEAL ON DREAMERS IS SO ELUSIVE: E.J. Dionne Jr. urges the left to stop pillorying Democratic leaders for “caving” in the shutdown fight and points to the real problem here:
In mobilizing raw nativism, Trump and the Republican leadership underscored the extent to which they are hogtied by their party’s right-wing extremists. … The barrier to sensible legislation in Washington is not a left that lacks any institutional authority, but the hard-line right in the White House and in the House of Representatives. … There can be little hope of progress unless the GOP’s non-nativists break with their leaders.
Trump and Paul Ryan are letting the hard right (who don’t actually want the dreamers to stay) veto any sensible compromise. Trump and Ryan need to decide if that’s their position, too.
* THE PROBLEM WITH THE GOP’S MIDTERM STRATEGY: Politico reports that tax experts, such as those from the Tax Policy Center, say the GOP tax cuts might not be all that visible to many voters:
The average person earning between $50,000 and $75,000 will see a roughly $30 increase in their checks, assuming they’re paid biweekly. Some may not notice the increase, especially when all sorts of other things can affect people’s take-home pay … “For some people, this is going to be less visible than Republicans think,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow with the group. “It’s going to be really challenging to get people to notice that they got a tax cut.”
Remember, the argument that Trump and Republicans delivered a huge middle-class tax cut is absolutely central to their 2018 strategy. (Their donors will notice the cuts, though!)
* ABOUT THAT ‘SECRET SOCIETY’ SCANDAL: GOP lawmakers have been hyping the idea of an FBI “secret society,” based on a text between two FBI agents, to push their alt-narrative of a Deep-State Coup against Trump. ABC News obtains the text itself:
“Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society,” FBI lawyer Lisa Page wrote to senior FBI agent Peter Strzok. … That text stands alone in the series of messages obtained by ABC News — with no apparent tie to other messages sent before or after it.
Hmm. But what if those calendars also contain all kinds of secret messages about the plot to overthrow Trump written in the language of the Bavarian Illuminati? Huh? Huh?