Democrats and a few stray, brave Republicans have unloaded on Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for his memo, deemed misleading and a threat to national security by the FBI and a slew of former intelligence professionals. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) issued a joint statement: “President Trump should heed the warnings of the Justice Department and FBI, and reverse his reported decision to defy longstanding policies regarding the disclosure of classified information. The president’s apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts, politicizing Congress’ oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government.” Hawkish GOP senators who are Trump loyalists — e.g. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Ron Johnson (Wis.) — remain silent, refusing to put country above party.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the wily ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, is demanding that the chairman call the FBI director up to the Hill to explain the danger he thinks that releasing the memo poses. “On January 24, 2018, the Department of Justice wrote to warn the House Intelligence Committee that releasing the memo would be ‘extraordinarily reckless,’ ” Nadler wrote to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “On January 29, the FBI issued a statement citing ‘grave concerns’ with inaccuracies and omissions in that document. On January 30, the Majority twice blocked our request to move the Committee into closed session, where we would be free to discuss our own concerns with the plan to make this information public.” Nadler went on to ask that “we call FBI Director Wray and other representatives from the Department of Justice to appear on an emergency basis before the Committee—on a formal or informal basis—to brief us on their concerns. It is imperative that we hear directly from these officials about the security and law enforcement implications of making this information public.”
That actually would be the role of a proper oversight committee. Goodlatte is unlikely to accommodate Nadler, but Nadler’s request should prompt more conscientious Republicans to request a similar briefing. Any DOJ, FBI or intelligence nominee who goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee should be grilled on this subject. They should also consider asking CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other senior officials to ask whether they were consulted, what their opinion of the potential damage might be and what is left out of the memo, to the extent they can share that information.
At the very least they should be able to opine on the standard of proof that a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant requires, how the intelligence community’s prior awareness of Carter Page (he was believed to have been recruited by the Russians in 2013) would come into play in a FISA warrant request and how FISA judges evaluate the evidence before them. Democrats can certainly make clear to the public that if there was a plethora of other evidence to suggest Page was a spy, which prompted the request for the warrant, use of the dossier materials was largely irrelevant.
It is not clear why Nunes thinks that allegedly submitting material included in the dossier to the FISA court was such a scandal since Christopher Steele was highly respected, did not apparently know who engaged Fusion GPS and produced information later verified by the FBI. If the FISA warrant turned up evidence in the Russia investigation, is Nunes acting as Carter’s lawyer, in essence making a case to suppress it? And why in the world would any of this disqualify or undermine Robert S. Mueller III, who was brought on to investigate the year after the FISA surveillance request?
None of this makes much sense, and if Republicans see fit to jeopardize national security in order to concoct some half-baked conspiracy theory, Democrats have every right, in fact the obligation, to explain how harebrained the rationale is and how risky the memo’s release may be.
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