The paucity of defenders of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on the Sunday shows — and Nunes’s absence — should tell you how disastrous the Nunes memo has been for Republicans, for Nunes and for President Trump’s effort to fend off the Russia investigation.
This exchange between Chuck Todd and former CIA director John Brennan was typical:
CHUCK TODD: How did you treat [the dossier]? You said you looked at it in December. It was obviously looked at by the F.B.I. We’ve now learned they’ve tried to confirm some of it and have had some success, some not yet. They don’t say it’s, they don’t, they say it’s unconfirmed but that’s about it.
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, there were things in that dossier that made me wonder whether or not they were, in fact, accurate and true. And I do think it was up to the F.B.I. to see whether or not they could verify any of it. I think Jim Comey has said that it contained salacious and unverified information. Just because it was unverified didn’t mean it wasn’t true. And if the Russians were involved in something like that, directed against individuals who are aspiring to the highest office in this land, there was an obligation on the part of the F.B.I. to seek out the truth on it.
CHUCK TODD: I want to go the, the central thesis of the Nunes memo is that the FISA Court was misled. Misled about the origins of the Steele dossier, misled about political bias. Should, we dont — we are learning that the FISA Court was certainly alerted of some political, political opponent being involved in this. How much detail should the FISA judge have known and should they have known more than they did?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, it’s so hard to say because we, we don’t have access to the underlying information of the Nunes memo which really, you know, clearly indicates that he was being exceptionally partisan in this. And as I said in my tweet, I’ve had fights with the Dems over the years when I was in the Obama administration. To include on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on interrogation program the C.I.A. ran, ran. But I never, ever saw the Democrats do something like this that was so partisan, so reckless and really just laid waste to the protocols that governed committees. And Devin Nunes, over the past several months, all the way back to the spring of last year I think has been engaged in these tactics purely to defend, make excuses and try to protect Mr. Trump. … That Devin Nunes and Republicans denied the ability of the minority, the Democrat members of that committee, to put out its report is just appalling. And I think it, it really underscores just how partisan Mr. Nunes has been. He has abused the office of the chairmanship of HPSCI. And I don’t say that lightly. I think over the past year he has demonstrated he’s engaged in these tactics purely to defend and try to make excuses [for Trump].
Nunes and GOP leadership remained hidden away. Instead, Republicans sent out Rep. Will Hurd (Tex.), an endangered Republican in a swing district. He could muster only a halfhearted defense of his colleagues. He was beat up badly in an interview challenging how Republicans could cry foul when none but Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) read the underlying materials:
HURD: Well, I would say that DOJ and the FBI should continue doing their job. I don’t believe this is an attack on Bob Mueller. I don’t believe this is an attack on the men and women in the FBI. I’ve served shoulder to shoulder with them and they are hard-working folks that keep us safe.
What this is about is – is a couple of things. Should unverified information be able to be used to spy on an American? Should circular reporting be used to spy on an American …
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But you just heard (INAUDIBLE) just say it wasn’t circular reporting if you had read the underlying intelligence.
HURD: So — so a press release or some newspaper article should be able to be used in order to spy on an American? That news paper article was about — was all based off the information that they already had access to. And what’s interesting is nobody is questioning whether some of the information was unverified, right.
Nobody has questioned that. Nobody has questioned that there was rumors that were involved in this. And — and for me, this is about making sure that we’re protecting the civil liberties of Americans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But as the congressman, who has read all the underlying materials, just said, said that is only one part of a very large file that was presented to the judge.
HURD: Well, when you introduced me today, you didn’t say I was from San Antonio or I spent all my life in Texas, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a Republican member of Congress, right.
You know, the information that — that we’re talking about is unverified info, nobody questions that. And the gentleman from California …
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which information is unverified?
HURD: Most of the information in the Steele dossier. What information there is verified? The only …
STEPHANOPOULOS: Because you didn’t read the underlying documents.
Hurd had no good explanation why the Democrats’ memo could not be released, but he did say the investigation should go on.
What was evident is that the memo helped call attention to Carter Page’s Russia ties, a bad fact for a campaign claiming no “collusion” with Russia. Former Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) acknowledged, “So, this is the problem with Carter Page. He had a problem of connections with people that the FBI believed were Russian intelligence officials or were at least passing information back to Russian intelligence officials. … The FISA warrant was really targeted at somebody they knew to be — to have a relation with Russians. And so all of this spin about what it means for Trump or not I think is, well, overblown, candidly.”
Not even Gowdy would accept the premise that the FISA warrant affected the rest of the investigation: “So to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’s meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So there’s going to be a Russia probe, even without a dossier.”
Even on Fox News, the designated Republican, Rep. Chris Stewart (Utah), backpedaled. “I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest the special counsel should not continue his work. This memo, frankly, has nothing at all to do with the special counsel.” You know, if you can’t find a booster to spin on Fox News, it’s probably not going well for Republicans.
Certainly Trump and his true believers may find themselves on defense once again if Democrats successfully push for release of their own memo. Republicans who aren’t among the cultists (like Sean Hannity) and aren’t willing to embarrass themselves and misrepresent the facts should hit the pause button, reflect upon what the memo does and does not do, consider the impression the GOP is leaving (namely, that it is an unserious and irresponsible defender of national security), and decide whether they want to be at the mercy of the likes of Devin Nunes. If intellectually respectable Republicans, former intelligence professionals and former Republican House members are publicly knocking the memo, maybe it is time to give Nunes the boot — before the voters do.
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