So yesterday the GOP released the long-awaited Nunes Memo about supposed malfeasance in the FBI and their attempts to tip the election or undermine Trump. The memo is about six pages long and you can read it very quickly.
I must say, for all the hype, this landed with a resounding thud. It didn’t say much that we hadn’t already heard. Partisans will claim vindication for whatever it is they believe. But it’s not the game-changer it was cracked up to be. Most of the commentators appear not to have read the bloody thing, even though it’s a few pages long. A few notes:
- The hysterical claims from Democrats like Pelosi that the release of this memo endangered national security are indeed hysterical. While the memo was classified, nothing in it reveals intelligence methods or reveals anything the Russians didn’t already know. If anything, it highlights our government’s reflexive tendency to classify everything, regardless of its importance.
- The hysterical claims that this reveals a vast conspiracy to throw the election to Clinton or undermine Trump are also hysterical. The primary complaint is about the process by which the Carter Page FISA warrant was obtained. But Page was no longer a member of the Trump team in October 2016, when the FISA warrant was issued. And Page had been on the FBI’s radar for years before this. The warrant was also renewed, which indicates additional information was coming to light.
- Conservatives are harping on the use of the partisan Steele Dossier to obtain the warrant. But there are several points to untangle. First, the report that the warrant would not have been obtained without the Steele Dossier is second-hand. A number of people are already disputing this. Second, there is no requirement in the law that potential biases in information need to be revealed. And it’s not clear that there should be. What matters is if the information is accurate, not where it comes from. If I report someone to the police for dealing drugs, it doesn’t matter if I have a personal vendetta against him and the police are not required to tell a judge if I do (and indeed don’t, when they are tipped off by rival drug dealers).
- In addition, not all of the material in the Dossier was “salacious and unverified”. The Nunes memo misquotes Comey, who said that some of the information was salacious and unverified. What matters is if that unverified stuff was material to the warrant. The memo doesn’t reveal whether it was or not.
- The memo does not the FBI used a news report to confirm the Steele Dossier; a news report that was based on … Steele himself. But it’s not clear if this was the only confirmation they used.
- Indeed, there is a lot of important information the memo does not reveal: what other confirming evidence the FBI had, what specific information from the Steele Dossier was used for the warrant, what information came to light that justified future warrants. Nunes is not a stupid man. It’s my experience than when not-stupid people ask the wrong questions, it’s because the right ones aren’t giving them the answers they want.
- The memo reveals that a couple of people involved in the Page investigation did not want Trump elected. That’s hardly a giant conspiracy. And that’s hardly damaging since FBI agents are allowed to have opinions. The questions is whether their opinion affected their work and … this doesn’t make the case for that. I’m further unimpressed because, a week ago, we saw hysterical claims about a “secret society” in the FBI that turned out to be … a one-line joke in a text message. We’ve heard a lot of hysteria on this subject with little to back it up.
- This is especially true now that we know that Strzok was one of those pushing to re-open the Clinton e-mail investigation days before the election, an event that may have tipped the election to Trump.
In short, the memo is not nothing but it’s not the game-changer we were promised. At worst, it reveals some sloppiness by the FBI and possibly some bia. It’s hardly a revelation to those even vaguely familiar with the bureau’s methods that they are occasionally sloppy and biased.
Look, if the Republicans want to make the case that the FISA process is opaque, canted against the civil liberties of Americans and open to misdirection and misleading claims, I’m not going to argue against that. But … where the fuck have they been for the last 15 years?! People have been complaining about this for a long time. Some Republicans — Justin Amash, Rand Paul — have some credibility on this. But hearing this from Trump supporters, from Republicans who voted to expand FISA surveillance just a few weeks ago — reeks of partisanship.
No. No, it’s worse. It reeks of elitism.
You may remember last year I wrote about the Comet Ping Pong incident where Right Wing idiots conjured a sex trafficking conspiracy in a pizzeria out of thing air, culminating in some guy taking shots at the owner.
As my friend Maggie McNeill said, here is the real story: our national hysteria over sex trafficking finally hurt a friend of the powerful. This war is damaging the lives of thousands of consenting adults every day. But they don’t matter because they’re not politically connected. The owner of this pizzeria is a friend and fund-raiser for Clinton. So suddenly, miraculously, it’s a national crisis.
So yeah, let’s talk about conspiracy theorists and the people who pass on their crazy conspiracy theories. Let’s talk about Alex Jones and 4Chan and all that. Let’s acknowledge that this pizzagate business if a fabrication that is making life hell for an innocent person. But let’s also talk about the trafficking hysteria that fed into this and that results in guns being pointed in the faces of consenting adults every day.
Because until we talk about that, this Comet Ping Pong business is just another example of how crushing people’s freedom is fine … until it happens to the elites or their friends.
Every day in this country, hundred of violent no-knock SWAT raids are launched against our citizens, mostly for drugs. Some are justified. But many of these fail to recover drugs or weapons. Occasionally, they result in tragedies like a flash-bang grenade mutilating a toddler. And many of them are based on warrants that have a much more tenuous basis than the Page FISA warrant. Every day, boilerplate language is fed to judges. Every day, false or misleading claims are made. Every day, criminals accused of crimes and trying to get off are used as the basis of warrants, arrests or court testimony. And this happens without a peep from the Republicans.
I’ll believe that Republicans care about the FISA process when they care about it for someone not connected to the Trump campaign. I’ll believe they care about raids and biased warrants when they care about it for everyone else. Until that day, I see this for what it is: an attempt to muddy the waters and deflect attention away from the serious accusations against Carter Page and possible related allegations against Trump.