LAST WEEK, Republican lawmakers released the Nunes memo, an overhyped, thinly evidenced hit on the Justice Department, without simultaneously publishing a Democratic response. Allowing only one side of the story on the record prevented Americans from gaining as full an understanding as possible. We had argued from the start for the documents’ simultaneous release.
Now the House Intelligence Committee has voted, belatedly, to release the Democratic memo, too. From there the document has gone to the White House for declassification review. We would like to assume, given President Trump’s newfound fondness for transparency, that permission will quickly be granted and the document will not be aggressively redacted. We hope House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) will insist on the expeditious and full release he has claimed to favor all along.
GOP lawmakers who maintained that the Nunes memo should do no harm to the Russia investigation were fooling themselves, or else trying to fool the rest of us, about the memo’s transparent purpose: to provide Mr. Trump a pretext to delegitimize or terminate the probe. Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump immediately claimed that the memo “totally vindicates” him and that the Russia probe is a “Witch Hunt” run by a hostile FBI. The Nunes memo does not prove any such thing. But polls show it has helped muddy the FBI’s reputation among Mr. Trump’s supporters.
If Mr. Ryan wanted only to promote congressional oversight of law enforcement, as he says, he would have insisted that the Nunes memo and the Democratic response emerge simultaneously — or, better, he would have installed committee leadership that would conduct a bipartisan process truly aimed at discovering and then laying out the truth.
Instead, the memo the president wanted released is out, and the fate of the Democratic response lies in Mr. Trump’s hands. Monday on Twitter, Mr. Trump encouraged speculation that he would squelch the Democratic memo by lashing out at its author, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
Mr. Ryan should now publicly insist that the president approve the release of the Democratic response. He also should remove Devin Nunes (R- Calif.), the loose-cannon chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is apparently preparing more memos for release. Then the speaker should bring up legislation to shield special counsel Robert S. Mueller III from any White House attempt to undermine or fire him. Republicans argue that no legislation is needed, as the president has made no move against Mr. Mueller or his supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. But, judging by the president’s aggressive attacks on the Russia probe, the next move might be their termination.
As always, it’s difficult — but important — to remember what is at stake. A foreign power interfered with an American election. Rather than help defend the country against future interference, the president is slandering the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Mr. Ryan can abet the slander, or he can help defend the country.
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