Extraordinarily Reckless

Published: February 5, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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Those aren’t my words. Those words come from the Justice Department in a letter before the release of a Republican memo critical of judgment and investigative practices of both Justice and the FBI concerning their investigation of Trump associate Carter Page.

(What follows is a condensed version of this story. To fully understand the memo’s context, you many want to read the following assessments: NPR; Politifact; Vox; Wired; The New York Times’ annotated version; The Wall Street Journal offers an appraisal for subscribers only.)

The letter, sent by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd to Republican Representative Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, states:

“The Department takes any allegation of abuse of our justice system by Department employees seriously. Further, we assume that HPSCI members want to provide evidence of any specific allegation of misconduct to Department officials so that we may take appropriate action. … Though we are currently unaware of any wrongdoing relating to the FISA process, we agree that any abuse of that system cannot be tolerated.”

To date, Nunes and the committee, have not provided “evidence of any specific allegation of misconduct.”

“We believe,” Justice continues, “it would be extraordinarily reckless for the Committee to disclose such information publicly without giving the Department and the FBI the opportunity to review the memorandum and to advise the HPSCI of the risk of harm to national security and to ongoing investigations that could come from public release.”

And here is, perhaps, the most relevant passage:

“Seeking Committee approval of public release would require HPSCI committee members to vote on staff-drafted memorandum that purports to be based on classified source material that neither you nor most of them have seen,” (emphasis added).

The FBI has insisted that they “have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

What is the “Nunes memo” and what’s the purpose of its release?

“The Nunes memo,” The Washington Post writes (Feb. 2), “is a four-page document, created by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), that alleges the FBI abused its surveillance authority, particularly when it sought a secret court order to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser. …

“The memo describes how a research effort funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee ended up playing a role in the FBI obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

“The research effort,” The Post adds, “was that of former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who produced a now infamous dossier of lurid allegations against Trump. Steele had been hired for his work by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that had itself been hired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.”

It’s important to note that Page had already been on the FBI’s radar before the Steele dossier due to his Russian connections.

However, take another look at the above quote from Justice: “[a] memorandum that purports to be based on classified source material that neither you nor most of them have seen.

Nunes and his staff made their conclusions without having seen the source material, or provided Justice with any evidence of wrongdoing.

The memo’s purpose serves not only to discredit the judgment of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but to falsely convince the American public that the FBI exercised political bias in their presentation to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Security Act) court. The ultimate goal, of course, is to discredit the Mueller investigation looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and Trump’s possible attempts at obstruction of justice.

In the days leading up to the memo’s release, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, “that releasing the memo could set a dangerous precedent, according to a person familiar with the conversation,” Time magazine reports (Feb. 1). “Rosenstein also told Kelly the memo didn’t accurately characterize the FBI’s investigative practices…”

Trump and the majority of GOP in Congress, abetted by Sean Hannity and Fox News, are not only attacking two Trump appointees, Wray and Rosenstein, but are claiming, without any direct evidence, that both Justice and the FBI are politically biased and taking criminal actions that would harm the president.

What others said before the memo’s release –

Mike Rogers, Republican and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:

“I don’t [want the memo released] … you’re only going to get a small part of the picture.”

Dan Coats, the current Dir. Of National Intelligence, “met with White House chief of staff John Kelly this week to air his concerns about the release of a memo,” The Hill reported (Feb. 2).

Fran Townsend, former homeland security advisor to George W. Bush:

“I think we have to remember the Nunes memo is an advocacy piece. It’s not a fact piece. This is Chairman Nunes’ summary of what he believes the abuses are. For that reason, it’s one-sided.”

“Townsend, who spent 13 years at the Justice Department,” CBS News reports (Feb. 1), “said it’s simply ‘not possible’ for one partisan actor to push through a FISA warrant or to obtain one based on a single piece of evidence.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake:

“President Trump should heed the warnings of the Justice Department and FBI. …The president’s apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts, politicizing Congress’ oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham:

“I want somebody outside of the Republican-led Congress to look at the allegations. I’m not asking that Lindsey Graham be the final arbiter of whether the F.B.I. and D.O.J. were off-base. [But] no, I don’t want it released yet.”

Republican Rep. Charlie Dent:

“I read the memos [Republican and Democrat] and I would rather not release them.”

After the memo’s release –

James Clapper, former Dir. of National Intelligence under both George W. Bush and Barrack Obama:

“Transparency is a great thing, but let’s be factual and objective about it … this clearly is a pretty blatant political act.”

Former CIA Director John Brennan:

“I think it, it really underscores just how partisan Mr. Nunes has been. He has abused the office of the chairmanship of HPSCI. And I don’t say that lightly.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan:

“This memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn [special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia] investigation or the deputy attorney general.”

Trump’s response:

“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. There was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!” – February 3, 2018

This is not about transparency, political bias, or “Deep State” conspiracy theories. This is a full-throated partisan attack — absent any specific evidence — against two vital federal institutions, the FBI and the Department of Justice, and the individuals, appointed by Trump, who oversee the Mueller investigation.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump stated, “I have great respect for the fact that the FBI and the Department of Justice are now willing to have the courage to [reopen the Hillary Clinton’s e-mail investigation].”

Now, with the release of the Nunes memo Trump calls both agencies a “disgrace” and “should be ashamed of themselves…”

This is about a president who says one thing one day when it serves his interests, then contradicts himself, when it suits those same interests; not the interests of national security; not the interests of American citizens.

While Congress unanimously believes the intelligence communities’ assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, President Trump has neither publicly announced nor taken any policy steps to protect the U.S. from future untoward actions by the Russians. Last week, Trump refused to impose sanctions against Russia that Congress voted on as law.

In a statement, released on Friday (Feb. 2), Senator John McCain said:

“The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

Fran Townsend believes FBI Director Wray will release a rebuttal to the memo.


  1. Jim, your commentary, “Extraordinarily Reckless,” is excellent!

    I have to agree with James Clapper “this clearly is a pretty blatant political act.” It’s so obvious that this president has something to hide in regard to Russia. As John McCain wrote in his last sentence “if we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putins job for him.”

    When, if ever, are the Republicans going to stand up to Trump????

  2. Another, “this can’t be happening in our UNITED States in 2018!” Even Senator John McCain said, “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

    I would rather watch a rerun of the Superbowl.

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