When U.S. House Republicans opted to release the now infamous Nunes memo, which attempted to discredit the FBI on the Russia investigation, fairness demanded they simultaneously vote to release the Democratic response. That they did not made clear their true motive: to allow U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, head of the House Intelligence Committee, to have the field to himself for a while, setting the narrative that the FBI was part of a nefarious “deep state” attempt to take down President Donald Trump.
The memo, of course, showed nothing of the kind and instead offered a surprisingly weak assortment of information and innuendo that led FBI Director Christopher Wray — a Trump appointee — to voice grave concerns over mischaracterizations and lack of context that he said presented an inaccurate picture. Trump declassified the memo anyway and crowed that it vindicated him on the Russia investigation. It did not.
Now after the Nunes memo has dominated headlines for days, in the name of “transparency” Intelligence Committee Republicans have joined Democrats in voting to release a Democratic rebuttal that next goes to Trump for final declassification. Trump should make it public at once, although we have little hope that he will. He already has attacked the ranking Democrat on the committee, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, calling him “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington,” saying — without proof — that Schiff left closed hearings “to illegally leak confidential information” and closing ominously by saying that “Little Adam Schiff … must be stopped.”
It’s clear that the Nunes memo is part of a multilayered attempt to undermine and discredit the results of Robert Mueller’s investigation before findings are even released. Mueller, a former FBI director himself, has led a disciplined and wide-ranging investigation into alleged foreign influence in the U.S. election. That investigation must proceed, unimpeded, without interference in the release of its findings — least of all by the man who may have been the direct beneficiary of foreign actions.
Nunes has lowered the integrity and credibility of the committee he leads, which for all its faults has had a reputation for acting in a bipartisan fashion when it comes to national security. Republican cries for “transparency” would be more credible if the cherry-picked information in Nunes’ memo had helped Americans arrive at firm conclusions. Further, if anything was unclear to the committee, it was fully empowered to call whichever witnesses were needed to clarify their understanding.
Instead, we have the president and Republicans going to war against the nation’s premier intelligence agency, one pledged to serve the very leaders attacking it. Nunes reportedly is preparing other reports on supposed FBI abuse of power. Is the FBI now to start releasing documents to defend itself? Let’s not forget that Nunes recused himself from all matters related to the Russia probe after ethics charges were brought against him for speaking publicly about classified reports shown to him by the White House.
Sadly, Republican attacks against the FBI are taking a toll. A new poll released Monday shows that a strong majority of Republicans now believe that “members of the FBI and Department of Justice are working to delegitimize Trump through politically motivated investigations.”
Destabilizing and discrediting institutions that might serve as checks on power are another classic tactic of authoritarian regimes. Such a pattern cannot be allowed to take hold in this country. A tightly balanced system of checks and balances has served the republic well since its inception, and every president has managed to work within that framework and, occasionally, face consequences. It can be no different with this president, no matter how much he sees himself as a “disrupter.”