The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Justice Department stands up to a reckless Republican

Conservative commentators, lawmakers and the president himself are criticizing the FBI. From the FISA memo to a "secret society," here are some of their claims. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

It’s about time. After suffering mostly in silence as Republican political hacks and Fox state TV threw one wacky allegation after another in their direction, after President Trump slurred and demeaned FBI employees, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to muster the courage to rebut baseless accusations against prosecutors and the FBI, and after a United States senator laughably accused the FBI of harboring a “secret society” (note to Wisconsin: You can do much better than Republican Sen. Ron Johnson) the professionals at the Justice Department decided they had endured quite enough.

On Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd — a political appointee — sent off a letter to the conspiracy addicted Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Callif.). CNN reported:

The Justice Department warned Wednesday that it “would be extraordinarily reckless” for the House intelligence Committee to release a classified memo publicly “without giving the Department and the FBI the opportunity to review the memorandum,” and to “advise” on possible harm to national security and ongoing investigations from its public release. …
The letter asks “why the Committee would possibly seek to disclose classified and law enforcement sensitive information without first consulting with the relevant members of the intelligence community.”
Boyd wrote that the Justice Department has turned over more than 1,000 pages of classified documents to the committee “relating to the FBI’s relationship, if any, with a source and its reliance, if any, on information provided by that source.”

The memo in question is one drafted by Nunes, one he refuses to show his fellow committee members and which is now the subject of an active social media campaign (#ReleaseTheMemo) led in part by Russian-related Twitter accounts.

Responding to the threatened release of Nunes’s memo speculating about skullduggery in the obtaining FISA warrants, Boyd said flatly it had no evidence of “any wrongdoing relating to the FISA process.” He added that the Justice Department takes any allegation of such abuse seriously. In other words, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee is seeking to compromise America’s national security.

Republicans such as Sen. Ron Johnson are hawking conspiracy theories to sow doubt into the Russia investigation, say Post opinion writers. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Justice Department’s letter is long overdue and, in fact, should have come from Boyd’s superior, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Rosenstein — perhaps in tandem with Sessions (since his recusal seems to be an on-and-off affair) — should have taken it upon himself to shut down the conspiracy talk and rebuke unfounded character assassination. He should have led the effort to protect national security.

Boyd did not stop with Nunes. “Boyd also wrote that ‘wider distribution of the classified information’ presumably contained in Nunes’ memo would be a ‘significant deviation’ from the Department’s agreement with House intel and the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan,” according to the CNN report.

In normal times, the House speaker would have stepped in to protect the reputation of the Intelligence Committee and the integrity of Congress. Ryan (R-Wis.) must decide whether his water-carrying for the president obliges him to indulge an Intelligence Committee chairman who is consumed with conspiracy mongering, who routinely gives support to ludicrous White House allegations (e.g., wiretapping in Trump Tower) and who has failed in his obligation to exercise reasonable, serious oversight and explore an assault on American democracy. Ryan sits passively by as Russian bots help hype the release of a memo based on Nunes’s unfounded speculation. (Note: This is precisely how Russian bots interacted with Trump campaign themes, thereby helping Trump dominate social media and ultimately win the election.) Ryan needs to remember that his role is not that of Trump surrogate, but rather leader of a co-equal branch. Ryan took an oath to defend the Constitution, which, among other things, obligates the president to protect and implement the laws of the United States, not shred them.

Nunes’s deliberate interference with a criminal and counterintelligence investigation, potential release of classified information and attempts to maliciously discredit the FBI should not be tolerated — especially coming from the Intelligence Committee chairman, who is supposed to be above partisan politics and is entrusted with the nation’s secrets. Nunes is now complicit in the ongoing obstruction of the investigation. While he may be safe from prosecution because of the “speech and debate” clause, he remains a walking advertisement for ousting Republicans from the majority. When neither the Intel Committee chairman nor the House speaker is looking for the truth and seeking to protect the American people from foreign threats, it’s time for them and their fellow Republicans to go.

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