Talking heads on TV opinion shows and in major newspapers have been consumed this week with a memorandum written two weeks ago by Devin Nunes, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, and released by committee vote and President Trump’s decision that it could be unclassified.
The four-page Nunes memo reported on testimony before his committee by then-FBI Director James Comey regarding the Bureau’s reliance on a report prepared by a retired British intelligence officer — Christopher Steele — and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign, in order to obtain a warrant to eavesdrop on an American citizen. That American — Carter Page — had a brief volunteer relationship with the Trump campaign, and the Steele Dossier attempted to link Trump and the Russians, through Page, both before and after the election.
Interestingly enough, the Nunes memo was originally classified “SECRET – NOFORN” (not releasable to foreign consumers, meaning friendly intelligence services). Having read many messages with this classification, I could see nothing in the memo justifying that level of classification, except that it is probably based on source material that’s similarly marked. That’s a common practice in referencing classified documents.
Now another congressional memo is being reported on, this time from the Senate Judiciary Committee and authored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Their six-page memo contains an unclassified version of a letter they have just sent to Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein calling for further investigation by the FBI into the activities of Christopher Steele.
Of note in the Grassley-Graham memo is the claim Steele based part of his opposition research on material that was developed by Sidney Blumenthal and his associate, Cody Shearer. Both are Democratic operatives with close links to Hillary Clinton. The Blumenthal material (and other material from Democratic sources) was said to have been transmitted to Steele through the State Department, which could be a devastating development that would seriously tarnish the Department of State. Not to be outdone, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have come up with their own 10-page memo that they want to have declassified and released to contradict the Nunes memo. Speculation has it this memo includes material that can’t be declassified, so it will have redacted portions in any released version. I expect to hear Democrats say the White House removed the redacted portions because they would prove Trump’s guilt. That would be a red herring, and totally dishonest.
Meanwhile FBI Inspector General Michael Horowitz is preparing a report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation for release in the March-April time frame. One news outlet reported Andrew McCabe stepped down last week because FBI Director Chris Wray had just been informed of incriminating material on McCabe in the Horowitz investigation. The only way we’ll know is to read the Horowitz report, which is still two months away at the very least.
If all of this sounds like memo overload, it is. And the fact that some of the memos are classified, while others are partially redacted, only feeds speculation that surrounds developments as they’re reported. Yet additional memos appear to be likely. Both parties hope to gain advantage by releasing information favorable to their position, and the leaks will probably continue until we can see the original FISA applications, as unlikely as that is given the detailed information in those applications.
This controversy is bad for our union, and I doubt it influences the opinion of strong Democrats or Republicans. The only thing I see derailing it is a strongly competitive matchup for March Madness. There’s some hope after all, and I don’t even follow basketball!
Fred LaSor follows politics from his home in the Carson Valley, but not always with any great enthusiasm.