The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Nunes memo continues to backfire

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

REPUBLICANS HAVE conducted a campaign of misdirection and innuendo in a partisan effort to help President Trump discredit the Justice Department and the FBI. There was already ample evidence of this before Saturday. After the House Intelligence Committee finally released a Democratic response to the notorious Nunes memo, the astonishing reality is even clearer.

The Republicans’ central charge, embodied in the Nunes memo, was this: Federal investigators failed to fully inform judges that information in a secret surveillance warrant application against former Trump adviser Carter Page came from a biased source, a dossier containing wide-ranging allegations against Mr. Trump and his circle that former British spy Christopher Steele compiled on behalf of Democrats. The president has used these findings to argue that the Russia investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt.

The Democrats’ response memo reveals that judges were, in fact, told that the dossier came from a source the FBI considered politically biased. Republicans shoot back that the disclosure was buried in a footnote and did not specifically name the Hillary Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee. How careless do they believe federal judges are? Any of the four judges (each of whom, incidentally, was appointed by a Republican) who reviewed the Page warrant could have demanded more information on the dossier’s provenance.

Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus says what's really interesting about the Nunes memo is how it'll be used. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

For the Republicans’ complaints to hold water, they would have to show that a reasonable judge would have refused to authorize surveillance against Mr. Page if federal officials had offered more detailed information about the dossier’s sources. But, having been warned that it came from entities attempting to gather damaging information on Mr. Trump, the judges could reasonably conclude they did not require additional information. Judges routinely grant warrants based on information investigators gather from slanted sources. A warrant is not a conviction and requires only reasonable belief, not proof, of wrongdoing.

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There was ample reason for concern about Mr. Page, which only grew as the investigation proceeded. His connections to Russia had put him on FBI radar screens long before. The Democratic response memo reveals that the FBI subsequently corroborated some of the dossier’s information, though the particulars are redacted from the public copy. Just because many of the allegations in Mr. Steele’s dossier remain unproven does not mean the whole document is fabricated.

None of the GOP objections discredit the broader Russia investigation, which the dossier did not spur. By the time the dossier entered into the FBI’s thinking, the Democratic response indicates, the Russia investigation was already well-developed, with specific inquiries on four separate people who were or had been on Mr. Trump’s campaign — three of whom are now under indictment.

The trumped-up charges and cherry-picked evidence of the Nunes memo discredit the House majority. Republicans who should know better, starting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), have enabled this assault on independent law enforcement and accelerated the GOP’s disgrace. Meanwhile, rampant Republican partisanship threatens to leave unchecked the ongoing Russian threat to U.S. democracy.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Democratic memo discredits Nunes, tantalizes on dossier corroboration

Paul Waldman: Are Republicans sowing the seeds of Trump’s demise?

Max Boot: Trump vs. Mueller is a battle for America’s soul

Jennifer Rubin: Mueller could demonstrate the accuracy of some aspects of the Steele dossier

The Post’s View: The Nunes memo shows the opposite of what Trump hoped it would prove