The long-simmering feud between President Trump and the Justice Department erupted into open conflict Wednesday when the FBI publicly challenged the president’s expected release of a contentious and classified memo related to the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
In a rare unsigned statement, the FBI cited “grave concerns” with inaccuracies and omissions in the four-page memo, which was written by House Republicans and alleges abuses at the Justice Department connected to secret surveillance orders. Trump has told advisers that the memo could benefit him by undercutting the special counsel’s investigation and allow him to oust senior Justice Department officials — and that he wants it released soon, something that could happen as early as Thursday.
“We have grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said. …
The memo in dispute was written by staffers for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) earlier in January after the panel obtained documents related to a controversial dossier of allegations concerning Trump and his purported ties to Kremlin officials.
We cannot stress enough just how bizarre and outrageous is the Nunes scheme. FBI Director Christopher Wray, appointed by Trump, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, also appointed by Trump, have warned the president that disclosure of the memo would do great damage to American national security. The FBI publicly has, in essence, said the Nunes memo is misleading. And despite all that, the president plans to allow the release of the memo, which has one purpose only: to discredit and hobble the FBI and the Justice Department that are investigating the president. Bluntly put, Trump and Nunes surely seem to be acting with corrupt intent to taint the investigators in order to help Trump escape the legal and political consequences of possible wrongdoing.
Wednesday night, events got even weirder. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat, released a letter he sent to Nunes accusing Nunes of altering the memo the committee voted to release before Nunes sent it to the White House. Schiff wrote:
Because there were material changes made to the document unbeknownst to Committee Members and only revealed to us this evening, two days after the vote, there is no longer a valid basis for the White House to review the altered document, since this new version is not the same document shared with the entire House and on which Committee Members voted.
It is now imperative that the Committee Majority immediately withdraw the document that it sent to the White House. If the Majority remains intent on releasing its document to the public, despite repeated warnings from DOJ and the FBI, it must hold a new vote to release to the public its modified document. This can be done at the business meeting on Monday, February 5, 2018 when we will move, once again, to release the Minority’s responsive memorandum, which House Members have now had the opportunity to read.
Schiff’s letter is unlikely to alter Nunes and the White House’s plans to release the memo on Thursday, but it does once more expose Nunes’s sleazy, dishonest behavior. Nunes has managed — just as he did in the phony “unmasking” scandal — to mitigate the impact of his own scheme. It’s hard to take seriously a convoluted conspiracy theory coming from someone who trips over his own feet with such regularity.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) then weighed in. “It’s clear that Chairman Nunes will seemingly stop at nothing to undermine the rule of law and interfere with the Russia probe,” he said in a written statement. “He’s been willing to carry the White House’s water, attack our law enforcement and intelligence officials, and now to mislead his House colleagues. If Speaker [Paul] Ryan cares about the integrity of the House or the rule of law, he will put an end to this charade once and for all.”
Ryan, however, has been part of the problem. It is fully within his power as House speaker to remove Nunes as chairman and to signal to Republicans that the institution (Congress, in this case), the party, the intelligence community and the country would not be served by Nunes’s stunt. Instead, Ryan threw a few logs on the bonfire by suggesting that the FBI needed to be cleansed, which sounds an awful lot like a politically minded purge.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who seems more and more to be in the wrong party, denounced Republicans’ antics. “These attacks on these institutions like we’re seeing now with the FBI and the Justice Department — I mean, these are things that they’re hallmarks of our country,” he said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “And as we erode them or create enormous doubts in the minds of Americans that there’s anything we can trust … it gets us in trouble.”
If Democrats ever needed proof for the midterms that the GOP is a threat to national security and is unfit to govern, this should do it. The Republicans cannot with a straight face claim to be the party of national security while carrying on in such fashion. And even if a congressman in Iowa or Michigan were to say he played no part in Nunes’s conduct, his or her reelection by definition would help return Nunes to the intelligence committee chairmanship and Ryan to the speakership. In short, Democrats can argue that if you vote for anyone with an “R” after his or her name, you are voting to hobble the FBI, expose our secrets to our enemies and help Trump escape the consequences of possible wrongdoing. Talk about a winning message.
Read more by Jennifer Rubin: