Devin Nunes (R-Ca), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives, has composed a four-page memorandum in which he lays out a case that the FBI under former President Obama abused surveillance procedures.
The letter is said to name former FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in a context that would open those individuals to severe criticism and other consequences.
Of course, each of those names has been prominent lately in other contexts. James Comey is in the center of controversies over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Rod Rosenstein is the man who appointed Mueller to that job. Andrew McCabe is in the news of late because of a question he should not have been asked. President Trump is said to have asked him how he voted in the 2016 election. McCabe says he found the exchange “disturbing.”
It is news, then, that each of these officials is allegedly featured in a memo that is itself classified. On twitter, one result has been the ubiquity of Hashtag, #ReleasetheMemo.
There were some reports that Russian or pro-Russia bots were accounting for a good number of the tweets using that hashtag. But a closer analysis suggests that, in the words of the Daily Beast, the groundswell “appears thus far to be organically American – not Russian propaganda.”
Right Wing View
David French, writing in National Review agrees with many of the writers using the #ReleasetheMemo hashtag, that the memo ought to be declassified for the sake of public understanding of important matters of state.
But he also doesn’t believe that release by itself will do much good. French understands the memo to consist of “top line conclusions” not supportive data, and he cautions that if it is released, “the fact that it was formerly ‘classified’ [may give it] an air of authenticity and mystery that its contents might not deserve.”
As Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has said, in a remark approvingly quoted by Breitbart, “You think about, ‘Is this [the abuses allegedly described in the memo] happening in America or is this the KGB? That’s how alarming it is.”
Left Wing View
The left believes that calls to “release the memo” are simply a distraction. On this view, President Trump and those around him realize that the Mueller investigation spells real trouble for the survival of this administration, and one of their answers to that real trouble is distraction, otherwise known as whataboutism.
Quinta Jurecic, deputy managing editor of the Lawfare blog, which is published by the Lawfare Institute in cooperation with Brookings, writes in this spirit: “[As] Trump supporters and Trump-aligned House Republicans beat the #ReleasetheMemo drumbeat, here is a modest prediction: If and when the memo is ever made public, it is likely to be just one more string of spaghetti tossed onto the wall by the now-familiar alliance of Trump[-supporting congressional Republicans and sympathetic conservative media desperate to discredit and distract from the investigations into Russian election interference.”
This view in turn has led to the hypothesis that the Republicans is playing a complicated double game, both demanding that the memo be released and withholding it, and that they will continue playing both halves of that game for some time yet.
Adam Schiff (D-CA), to top minority party member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that the whole political purpose of talk of the Nunes memo is “to make a misleading case to the public, perpetuate the president’s political narrative, but not let the public see the underlying materials that would show just how distorted it is – I think that’s by design.”