Hysteria over Nunes memo masks fears of its findings

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I wanted to read the memo prepared by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on possible misuse of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before forming an opinion about it.

The hysteria about the memo, which was jointly developed by the California Republican, his committee staff and fellow Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, surely was not commensurate with its importance.

Let’s dissect the breathless attack lines that Democrats and their mainstream media allies trotted out:

“You can’t release the memo. Nunes made changes!” It turns out, the chairman made minor grammatical edits and a few substantive changes that either the FBI or the Democrats requested.

 “You can’t release the memo. The Democratic memo isn’t being released!” Committee Democrats didn’t even have a memo, ultimately rushing one out the day before the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the Nunes memo to the White House for review. That vote followed a process where all members of the House could view the memo. That same process is being used for the Democratic memo, and I suspect that memo will be released in the coming days.

— “You can’t release the memo. It will compromise intelligence sources and methods!” Had this been a legitimate, sincere concern, that would have been one thing. And I do not doubt that the FBI did not want the memo released; federal agencies rarely welcome oversight. But nothing in the memo put national security at risk, as the White House verified after an interagency review process. And now Mr. Gowdy says he believes the Democrats deliberately put sensitive information in their memo so they could claim political interference when that information was redacted.

“Now that you released the memo. It’s a ‘nothingburger!’” Once the memo was released, the very same people who worked relentlessly to prevent it from becoming public immediately turned around and said it did not matter.

At some point, should we not consider the validity of these claims and apply the same skepticism to future claims from the same critics?

The Nunes memo revealed information that should trouble every single American, while raising several new lines of inquiry.

Among them:

Did former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe tell Congress that, without the anti-Trump “Steele dossier,” there would not have been a FISA warrant targeting an ex-Trump campaign adviser? The transcript needs to be released.

Did the original FISA warrant detail that the dossier was specifically funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee in mid-2016? It appears that the only reference to that face was a vaguely worded footnote to the FISA court application that said “political sources” were behind the dossier. Releasing the FISA warrant — with appropriate redactions — would tell us a lot.

Chairman Nunes and Chairman Gowdy have raised additional questions about the State Department’s role in the scandal, with Mr. Gowdy specifically suggesting that Clinton friend Sidney “Grassy Knoll” Blumenthal was involved in feeding information to Mr. Steele, the onetime British spy hired to do opposition research on Mr. Trump. This would raise all kinds of questions going forward.

Did Mr. Steele pay his Russian intelligence sources or Russian citizens for information? Was the dossier verified before it was used to justify the FISA warrant?

There is now reason to wonder how involved the Obama administration was in all of this.

Newly revealed text messages between FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who was special agent in charge of the Clinton investigation and until last August served as a member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators, include a discussion about preparing then-FBI Director James B. Comey to brief President Obama on the status of the Russian-meddling probe.

Specifically, on September 6, 2016, Mr. Strzok said in a text message, “POTUS wants to know everything we’re doing.”

This does not comport with statements Mr. Obama made months earlier, when he said, “I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations” and added he could “guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation.”

The worst case scenario is that the Obama administration actively spied on an American citizen who was linked to the opposition party during a presidential campaign, and did it based on the flimsy, misleading information it provided to a FISA court judge. If this were proven, it would likely be a criminal offense.

Democrats desperately tried to prevent the Nunes memo’s release then mocked its contents when the suppression effort failed. That makes no sense.

But the Nunes memo marks the beginning of a new line of inquiry. The public needs to know what happened — and how this all plays into the FBI and Mueller investigations.


Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and at MackOnPolitics.com.