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Nunes' memo is exercise in partisanship

Trump Russia Probe
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a close ally of President Donald Trump who has become a fierce critic of the FBI and the Justice Department, strides to a GOP conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. House Speaker Paul Ryan is defending a vote by Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Far Be it from us to oppose the disclosure of sensitive government information, subject to appropriate, and appropriately limited, national security considerations. Sunlight can indeed be the best disinfectant. Yet no one should confuse the House Intelligence Committee’s decision to release a much-ballyhooed “memo,” written by Republican staff and purportedly describing malfeasance at the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, with a good-faith exercise in legislative oversight.

This looks instead like a mischievous attempt to discredit the institutions responsible for assisting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any connection Donald Trump’s campaign might have had to it. Promoted by the actions of committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the “#ReleaseTheMemo” campaign is not just partisan but hyperpartisan, a pet cause of GOP House ultras and their media cheering section that appalls more sober Republicans in the Senate and executive-branch agencies.

No doubt there is cause for legitimate concern in the politically tinged text messages exchanged by now-sidelined FBI official Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who, in conducting an extramarital affair, discussed both that and their worries that Trump might win in 2016, in writing. There might similarly be cause for concern if the Justice Department unduly relied on dubious, Democrat-funded sources in its request for a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a Trump campaign official whose murky ties to Russia aroused suspicion in intelligence circles in the United States and abroad.

These are said to be the issues raised in the now-notorious memo — though for all we know, the actual accusations, if and when we finally see them, may prove to be overblown, not “shocking,” as Republican House members claim. The committee’s Republican majority has denied Democrats a chance to publish their competing take on the intelligence simultaneously with the GOP version of events, which does not inspire confidence in the objectivity of the latter.

The way for Congress to investigate all of this should have been aggressively but soberly, seeking cooperation from the agencies involved and maintaining a bipartisan spirit on the committee. Instead, Nunes has maximized the hullabaloo surrounding the events in a manner plainly calculated to inflame public opinion.

The release of the memo, in fact, constitutes the apparent first-ever exercise of the Intelligence Committee’s declassification authority concerning such documents. And the GOP majority acted in the face of a Justice Department official’s warning that release of the material “would be extraordinarily reckless” in terms of potential harm to intelligence-gathering, unless the department and FBI had an opportunity to review it in advance.

Damage is also being done to the political independence, real and perceived, of federal law enforcement. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., might have called a halt to this, but instead on Tuesday he chose to enable it, endorsing the release of the memo while feebly insisting that it is “completely separate” from Mueller’s inquiry.

Now the White House has to object to the release of the memo or approve it, which means that the last check against any possible abuse of this process will be the good judgment of President Trump.

The Washington Post

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