Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 31, 2018
Even as the president tries to rally a view of American greatness through his State of the Union presentation, an enormous amount of attention is being focused on a distinctly un-American attack on the FBI.
At issue is the decision by majority Republicans in Congress to release what by all counts is a partisan memo reflecting classified information about missteps by the FBI in moving towards what we now have as a Special Counsel investigation of all-things-Russia.
The Republican-majority House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to issue the memo publicly, which it will be once the White House agrees that no important classified information is involved. Minority Democrats objected, screeching that the memo is incomplete, reflects classified information and is biased in its interpretation of the facts. And it is a declassification of “classified” information, of all things.
OK, we’ll likely all get a chance to make that judgment in a day or two. The White House has five days to stop it, but, of course, won’t do so. This was a Republican ploy to big-foot an internal Justice Department investigation of its own behavior that is using the material for partisan advantage.
I look forward to reading the document, but then I’m a glutton for such punishment.
Rather, supporters of President Trump, who present themselves as supporters of Law and Order over all else, seem tickled pink to have found another in a series of moves to muddy the waters that lap up against the White House and the Russia investigation. And they will play it for all its worth, just as they did on Monday with the early (by a month) retirement of Andrew McCabe as deputy FBI director, with an organized publicity campaign questioning the tactics of the FBI and the missteps of a couple of individual FBI agents who, in fact, were cashiered from the Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s team for any appearance of bias.
There will be endless noodling over the details of the 4-page memo — and eventually, one would guess, the a delayed, but eventual 10-page Democratic point-by-point response. From all that I can read, there are plenty of opportunities to context the bullet points of the memo, starting with the fact that the government needs evidence to win approval in the FISA federal investigative court to surveill individuals.
But to me, this is a replay of the campaign that Donald Trump has run since the elections about news coverage as “fake news.” The immediate point that the president seeks is more favorable coverage, but the longer goal is to so undercut the news media as to diminish the impact of any “unfavorable” coverage, including what many of us still call “news.”
This whole flap about the Intelligence Committee memo, written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the committee chairman, reeks with hypocrisy and missteps all over the place. It has a distinct odor of trying to throw up distractions from the investigation itself, of course, but more seriously, to undercut the validity of the Mueller investigation.
As an aside, the White House might remember that if you don’t want to look as if you’re working with Russians, you might not want to cancel pending sanctions against Russia for their interference, as voted by the bipartisan Congress.
For openers, the Republicans should remember that governing is serious business, not some kind of partisan plaything. We pay you, and you take an oath to do the people’s business, not pursue partisan one-upmanship.
If you are done with your investigation, vote on it and issue a report — or two, if you have dissents. Even if you haven’t finished, but have found a separate issue, resolved it, voted and issued a report. But to stop a halftime and decide that you’re playing separate games that have nothing to do with each other is nutty — and wrong.
When the Justice Department said earlier this week that the memo should not be released before it has a chance to review whether the memo discloses classified sources or processes, Trump, still in Davos at the time, got angry. As a result, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly Jr. held meetings and called senior Justice Department to convey Trump’s displeasure and lecture them on the White House’s expectations. Kelly has been ending such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House isn’t expecting officials to do anything illegal or unethical.
This is right out of the how-to-kill-democracy playbook, in my view. The White House is running through the china shop of government without limit, without regard for constitutional or traditional traditions, with a single-minded goal of preserving itself at the expense of the Justice Department and the FBI.
Nunes himself was pulled temporarily from the oversight of the Intelligence Committee investigation of Russian links to the Trump campaign and White House after Nunes faced House Ethics Committee proceedings over whether he disclosed classified information to the Trump White House. Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff is quite clear that he sees Nunes as trying to discredit the Mueller investigations by tainting the FBI and working to protect the president.
The memo is said to put an inordinate amount of blame on the shoulders of Rod Rosenstein, deputy head of the Justice Department and a constant target of Trump anger for allowing the Mueller investigation to keep widening. There is now daily musing in the media about whether the president will seek to remove Rosenstein and even Mueller. None of this seems haphazardly coincidental.
Meanwhile Sean Hannity and some others at Fox News have been extremely vocal in keeping charges against the FBI front and center, with some talking heads, even commentators, talking about “coups” by the FBI and Justice.
We have another situation in which the memo itself no longer really is the key event, just the catalyst; what is really at issue here is whether the president and Congressional Republicans are putting him above the law, above governmental checks and balances, and beyond the touch of the American legal institutions.
We have a Republican-led committee investigating issues that involve the president while also moving to circle the wagons to protect the president.
It makes me more than a little undone to consider what will happen if and when Mueller says that there was a criminal act or more. This same Republican majority will be the ones to consider censure, impeachment or no punishment.
Put together, this is not Democracy working at its best. Rather it seems like a formula for tearing the Republic apart.
Hey, that would be a good goal for some foreign country like Russia to be pursuing.