The Republican memo purporting to show how the Justice Department and FBI abused their power to probe the Trump campaign is underwhelming. But the reasons for its release are of great significance, says Michael Knigge.
After weeks of hype and against the ardent opposition of Democrats, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Friday finally released the memo that President Donald Trump said shows how leaders of the FBI and the Justice Department were biased against him and "have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats."
The gist of the memo's claim is that the FBI and the Justice Department, in an application to get a warrant to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, did not disclose that part of the application information stemmed from a dossier financed by the Hillary Clinton campaign, and that the dossier's author, Christopher Steele, was anti-Trump.
Caveats about the claim
While it seems indeed problematic if this information about the source was not disclosed in the surveillance application, there are few key caveats about that claim.
First, we don't know if this was really the case, since this is the selective Republican interpretation of documents reviewed by the House Intelligence Committee, headed by GOP congressman and Trump acolyte Devin Nunes. Second, Carter Page, due to his extensive Russia ties, was already on the radar of US counterintelligence authorities long before his role in the Trump campaign, according to court documents and testimony reported by the Wall Street Journal. Third, the source background was likely not a legal requirement to get a warrant. Fourth, even if, as Republicans claim, the source background was lacking in the application, this does not automatically render his information false. And fifth, the last page of the memo, perhaps inadvertently, refutes the claim often made by Republicans that the Steele dossier triggered the probe, since it explicitly states that information by former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos triggered it.
To be clear — assuming that the GOP's claim is true — of course it would have been desirable to include the background about the Steele dossier in the surveillance application simply to avoid the accusation of bias we are dealing with now.
Pretext to undermine Mueller probe
But having said all that about the claims of the memo, the key question to ask is this: Is this memo the smoking gun showing that the FBI and the Justice Department flagrantly conspired to gin up an investigation of the Trump campaign? No, it isn't — not by a long shot.
Instead, the memo seems more like a desperate attempt by Nunes, who served on Trump's transition team, to provide a pretext for the president to go after all those in the Justice Department and the FBI whom he views as not being adequately loyal to him. And for Trump this means not doing enough to hamper or shut down the dreaded probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, which is getting closer and closer to the president himself. Because this, make no mistake, is Trump's ultimate goal — to finally rid himself of the Mueller investigation that could threaten his presidency.
And this is why the memo, despite being more like a dud than the promised bombshell, is deeply troubling. It could pave the way for Trump to fire or force out those who stand in the way of getting rid of Mueller. And at least as worrying is the thought that many, if not most, Republicans would go along with it.