Much Ado About Absolutely Nothing

Like many people interested in politics and policy, I made it a point to read the long-hyped Nunes memo on alleged political bias at the FBI.  I read it first before I read any of the analyses and political spin that are out there.  I read it as someone with nearly three decades of experience in both the policy and intelligence worlds.

My first reaction was: THAT’S IT?  All the hype from Republicans.  All the dread from Democrats.  All the indignation from the FBI.  FOR THIS?

The memo is breathtaking only in its lack of anything important.  It weaves together a lot of wild assumptions, some blatant distortions, a few bald-faced lies, and a very few facts into a mess that combines being both too nitty-gritty for most laymen to understand and too ridiculously ludicrous to be taken seriously by anyone who does know anything about the subject.

Basically, what it says is that the FBI used a document tied to Democratic opposition research as the basis for a warrant to tap the phones of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign policy adviser, without informing the court where it came from.  It then implies that this, along with evidence some members of the investigation, since dismissed, didn’t like Trump, as evidence the whole FBI is politically biased and that the investigation into Russian meddling into our investigation and possible Trump campaign collusion with that meddling is just a partisan witch hunt.

It’s underlying premise and most of what it contains are complete and utter hogwash.  Mr. Page was suspected of unsavory involvement with the Russians since at least 2013, before Trump had even declared he was running for President.  The Steele dossier, which was indeed paid for by first Republican and then Democratic opponents of Trump, formed only a small part of the justification for the surveillance, which has been approved three more times by the court since then, after the Steele dossier and its source became public knowledge.

In applying for the warrant, the FBI did indeed tell the court it came from a political source, and the court approved it anyway, presumably because the other evidence presented was convincing.  At the time of the application for the warrant and its approval, Carter Page no longer had any association with the Trump campaign, according to both Page and Trump, so there was absolutely no spying on the Trump campaign.

Furthermore, Russian meddling in our election is a proven fact, according to every agency in our intelligence community.  On top of that, openly available information already proves that members of the Trump campaign, including his son, at the very least attempted to collude with the Russians to influence our election.

It’s a complete and embarrassing flop, as evidenced by the multitude of Republican backing away from it over the weekend.  Of course that didn’t stop the Blowhard in Chief from tweeting triumphantly about it.  And it won’t stop right-wing propaganda from continuing to try to sell the story that the Republican leaders of the Russia investigation and a notoriously conservative agency are somehow biased against the Republican president.  And it won’t stop those that are completely in the thrall of that propaganda from believing that it does indeed prove that ridiculous lie to be true.

My second thought, was, why did the Democrats and FBI protest so much about its release, given that it is such a dud?

To that end I can only speculate and offer possibilities.

As for the Democrats, well, it is pretty much reflexive to oppose anything the Republicans say and do, for some pretty good reasons.  In addition, it is probably smart politics to ally yourself with the hard-bitten professional cops in the FBI.  More importantly, though, they probably understand the Republicans’ game.

The purpose of the Nunes memo was never to influence rational and independent thinkers, or to make convincing, logical arguments that might sway the minds of Trump’s opponents.  Rather, it, like much of Republican political rhetoric these days, is only intended to appeal to core supporters.  It’s intent is to reinforce the massive (and absolutely ludicrous) sense of persecution and anger among that base.  To further convince them that liberals and the government (along with blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, intellectuals, scientists, universities, etc., etc.) are out to get them.  That therefore, they cannot trust anything the FBI says, just as they cannot trust anything scientists say, or the legitimate media says, or even that traditional conservative Republicans say.  They cannot trust anybody except Trump-loving Republican politicians and the right-wing propaganda machine, which are the only sources who have the interests of true (white) Americans like them at heart.

With regard to the FBI,  they have a lot of legitimate concerns.  While at first glance, nothing in the memo represents a clear and present danger to sources and methods, the intel community pretty much reflexively opposes releasing any classified information.  It is indeed possible that small details in the memo, when viewed by Russian intel pros, could endanger some of those sources and methods.

It also sets a horrible precedent of releasing classified information for political gain, something the FBI would like to discourage.  I can say for a fact that intel agencies are always reluctant to give classified information to Congress, for just this reason.  They know it is very likely to be released, or leak, as soon as someone sees a political advantage in doing so.  Releasing this memo over the objections of the FBI further erodes an already frayed trust.  That trust is absolutely vital to maintaining proper oversight over our intel agencies.

Most important, though, the FBI opposed it because it is a bald-faced and brazen attack on their professionalism and credibility.  It has already caused an entire segment of our population to lose trust in the FBI.  Trust that is necessary for them to function effectively as a law enforcement agency.  It’s ironic that it is conservatives who are losing that trust now, despite the fact the FBI is a decidedly conservative organization.

In fact, the FBI, in its early years and during J. Edgar Hoover’s long and malign reign, did have a bad reputation for both illegality and political bias, but it certainly wasn’t bias against conservatives.  Since the resignation of Hoover, however, and with the support of both Republican and Democratic administrations, the FBI has worked hard to reform and professionalize itself, and it is now one of the most respected and professional law enforcement and intelligence organizations in the world.  But it’s still a very conservative organization at heart.

In the end, however, people will choose what they wish to believe, as always.

They can choose to believe Donald J. Trump, Devin Nunes and the other right-wing politicians trying desperately to protect their flawed master.

Or they can choose to believe the professional, non-partisan investigators led by conservative Republicans and drawn from one of the world’s premiere law enforcement agencies.

That should be a pretty obvious choice, shouldn’t it?

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