Mike Littwin: The Nunes Memo dud

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

The Nunes Memo is finally out, and now we know that as hype goes, this is the Category 5 hurricane that misses landfall by about 400 miles.

Read it yourself. It’s three-and-a-half quick, if often puzzling, pages.

If you take the time, you’ll notice that there is hardly anything there. The memo changes nothing in the matter of the Mueller Russia probe. It tries, but fails, to impugn Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is apparently high on Trump’s next-Russia-probe-person-to-fire list. It doesn’t show FBI bias against Trump, although it does misleadingly quote the now infamous FBI lovers’ emails.

And what it doesn’t nearly do is justify Paul Ryan’s call to “cleanse” the FBI. (In a surprise, Sen. Cory Gardner’s spokesman told The Denver Post that Gardner was still “reviewing” the memo, which takes about two minutes to read, but that, in trying to have it both ways, he “continues to have confidence in the … FBI and Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in our election.” Rep. Mike Coffman meanwhile bravely adds that “it’s important for the American people to read the released memo and reach their own conclusions.”)

Let’s be honest. This is a partisan hack job that the Democrats have rebutted in a 10-page memo that Republicans, to this point, have refused to allow them to release. It’s a Bill O’Reilly-style, short-on-facts, long-on-innuendo screed written on House of Representatives stationery. You’ll see scarier stuff on Fox every night, or so I’m told.

If you want proof of what a dud this memo truly is, let’s hear from Trey Gowdy, Mr. Benghazi himself, who read the Nunes Memo before it was released, has read the intelligence reports it was based on and has read the Democratic rebuttal. Gowdy tweeted, after some mumbo-jumbo about transparency, “As I have said repeatedly, I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not – in any way – discredit his investigation.”

The would-be headline from the memo is the contention of a “troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”

One problem: the memo does nothing to prove any of that.

The central issue in the memo is that the FBI used the Steele dossier (you remember, that’s the one from the British spy about Trump and alleged Russian pee) in gaining FISA clearance for surveillance of then-former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Though the FBI used the dossier, we’re informed, the FISA court wasn’t told that it had been financed, in part, by the Democratic National Committee or that Steele thought (like millions of others) that Trump’s candidacy was a danger.

Democrats apparently deny the non-disclosure charge in their unreleased rebuttal. And here’s just how partisan this memo is: Nowhere in the Nunes document does it mention that the oppo-research dossier was originally financed by the very conservative Washington Free Beacon, which, just guessing, wasn’t trying to get Hillary Clinton elected.

Three quick discrediting points, if you need them: 1. Page was already gone from the Trump campaign by the time of the FISA-approved surveillance. 2. Nowhere in the Nunes document do we learn if anything used by the FBI from the Steele dossier, or anywhere else, had not been vetted. 3. The FISA court reapproved the surveillance several more times. Vox cited a tweet from Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent and current Yale law professor, “It’s reapproved if you have new information justifying the original probable cause and the government’s need to listen. Kind of the point of requiring the extension. Sounds like the gov (made) its burden not once, but THREE times.”

The “new” information presumably wouldn’t be old information from the Steele dossier, but, more likely, what the FBI was learning from the surveillance.

The smart people who read the memo are all noting that it closes with the fact, first reported in The New York Times, that the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia opened with its look into former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, which began months before the Steele dossier came to light. This memo was trying to separate Page from Papadopoulos. What it didn’t mention was that the FBI had been looking at Page connections with Russia since 2013.

One thing we know is that Trump was prepared to release the memo before he had even read it, assuming he has ever read it. In any case, he called the revelations, such as they are, a “disgrace,” although with the usual Trumpian lack of details.

“It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country,” Trump said. “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.”

It’s hard to entirely discredit the Mueller probe since high Trump officials have already pleaded guilty to crimes and others have been indicted. And it will be harder still to defend the memo once it is shown to be such hackery. What it won’t do — and what it is almost certainly meant to do — is somehow justify Trump going after Rosenstein and/or eventually Mueller.

You’ve heard what Trump-appointed FBI Director Chris Wray thought about the release, contained in this bold FBI statement: “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

In other words, Wray said the memo was a pack of lies, after which Trump released it anyway, which could herald another showdown with the FBI, which should surprise no one.

Here’s what former FBI Director Jim Comey — who was, of course, fired by Trump over the Russia investigation — tweeted upon the memo’s release: “That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”

Trump was right, sort of. The memo is a disgrace. Fortunately, no one who reads it could possibly take it seriously.

Mike Littwin usually runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for