Donald Trump

Everybody's Talking About 'The Memo' and Ignoring the Surveillance Debate

Partisan posturing drowns out important civil liberties concerns.

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Devin Nunes
CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS/Newscom

The first thing you need to know about "The Memo" is that nobody can truly tell you what you need to know about "The Memo" in advance. That's part of the whole shtick.

Here are some basics, though. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), previously an extremely pro-surveillance lawmaker, and his staff in the House Intelligence Committee crafted a four-page memo that claims to show that the FBI abused its surveillance authorities. The memo apparently claims that the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) with the now-infamous "Steele Dossier" in order to get permission to wiretap former Trump aide Carter Page and his conversations with Russian officials. All of this, they say, was part of a conspiracy to attack the Trump administration.

Nunes' memo is currently classified. It has been seen by House lawmakers and, over the weekend, by FBI Director Chris Wray. Last night the House Intelligence Committee voted to begin the process of publicly declassifying and releasing the memo. This starts a five-day clock for Trump to weigh in on if he wants to keep the memo classified. The White House has suggested that it supports the memo's release; we'll see what actually happens.

In the meantime, everybody wants to tell you what to think about the memo based on whether they're backers of Team Red or Team Blue. For those of us who are neither and don't care whose ox gets gored (or hope they all do), there are still reasons to care about what's happening, why it's happening, and the overall impact of this fight.

Yes, This Memo's Release Is Politically Motivated. That's OK.

The Democrats also prepared their own memo explaining what they believed happened with the wiretapping. The Republican-controlled Intelligence Committee declined to release the Democratic version. So only one party here—the party the president belongs to—will be able to publicly represent its interpretation of the surveillance of somebody close to the president.

It's silly to pretend that this is not a deliberate effort to undermine the investigation of potentially inappropriate behavior between people close to Trump and foreign governments. It's also silly to deny that the Democrats' sudden insistence that the FBI is beyond reproach (yeah, right) is a deliberate attempt to undermine critique.

But there might actually be an upside to all this political posturing. The average American knows very little about how federal surveillance works in practice. A sudden burst of transparency, even one-sided and politically motivated, can at least give everyone a better understanding of how the secretive foreign intelligence court actually works.

And for better or worse, Trump is the president of the United States. Secret surveillance of people in the president's orbit by members of his own government is a big deal. It's completely appropriate to reject the idea that we should simply trust that FBI officials are behaving appropriately. They have a very lengthy history of doing otherwise.

But the Memo Is Not Going to Tell You What Actually Happened.

The Nunes memo is an interpretation of classified intelligence that was used to get authorization to snoop on Page. But it's not the intelligence itself. So if we're willing to acknowledge that part of the motivation to release the memo is to protect Trump, we have to acknowledge that this memo is probably not going to tell the whole story.

Do not take this as a demand to keep the memo secret. We should see the memo. We should see the Democrats' memo. And at some point, we should be able to see the underlying intelligence.

Note that Trump, as the president of the United States, has wide authority to arrange for the declassification and release of this intelligence information that supposedly has been misapplied in order to snoop on him and undermine his presidency. That little detail doesn't seem to capture as much attention. The Nunes' memo is one step removed from being able to see what the FBI actually presented.

Again, this is not a demand for less transparency, but for more. We shouldn't settle for the perspective of people who have an obvious interest in shielding the president.

None of This Will Lead to a Discussion of Surveillance Policies and Practices.

A reminder for the umpteenth time: Many of these Republican members of Congress who are acting outraged about the surveillance of Trump just voted to renew and expand the FBI's authority to snoop on American citizens through this secret system. And Trump himself signed the bill into law.

All the while, these same folks misled the American public by saying these surveillance powers were necessary to capture foreign terrorists. As the Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez notes over at Just Security:

One need not believe that there are ongoing partisan conspiracies within the FBI and Justice Department to support more stringent civil liberties safeguards on the broad spying authorities the intelligence community has accumulated over the past two decades. But it is very hard to understand how one could believe such a conspiracy exists—indeed, continues to be covered up by sitting officials—yet reject even the idea of pausing to debate such safeguards before renewing precisely the sorts of powers one claims have been abused.

That's especially frustrating for those of us (and you) who have been paying attention to the federal government's misuses of surveillance for years now, long before Trump even announced his candidacy for president.

UPDATE: If this tweet is accurate, the Nunes memo will be released, and soon.

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36 responses to “Everybody's Talking About 'The Memo' and Ignoring the Surveillance Debate

  1. And at some point, we should be able to see the underlying intelligence.

    “We”, of course, being our grandchildren.

    And “should” being the operative word. 8-(

  2. And at some point, we should be able to see the underlying intelligence.

    Yeah, that’s never going to happen. We’re too stupid to know what our elected officials and their accomplices are doing with our tax dollars. Only the aristocratic overloads are allowed that privilege. We are serfs. We exist to line the pockets of politicians. Nothing else.

  3. After all this hype, if there is no smoking gun, the Republicans are going to take it in the ass.

    1. Nah any holes poked into there theory will be fake news. Just as any flaws in the dems russian hacking story will be disregarded. Meanwhile NSA will keep collecting and FBI will keep misusing.

  4. Hah! Y’all are outing yourselves as “TEAM BLUE”.

    1. Why doesn’t Shackford want us to see the memo?

  5. The Democrats also prepared their own memo explaining what they believed happened with the wiretapping. The Republican-controlled Intelligence Committee declined to release the Democratic version. So only one party here?the party the president belongs to?will be able to publicly represent its interpretation of the surveillance of somebody close to the president.

    You’re aware that you are lying, right?

    The GOP is treating the Dem memo IDENTICALLY to how they treated the Nunes memo. Released to other House members for about a week or so and then voted on for release to the public. In fact, UNLIKE the Nunes memo, the GOP voted unanimously to begin the process to release the Dem memo. The Dems wanted there to be NO review by other House members…which Nunes’ memo didn’t get. 200 GOP members and about 15 Dems have seen Nunes memo for several days now.

    1. It’s weird that the link to your evidence of Scott’s (and CNN’s) factual error didn’t publish. Even weirder is that the whole paragraph you wrote proving malicious intent that would make such an error a lie rather than a mistake didn’t publish. Do you think it might be a conspiracy, or even worse, a (((conspiracy)))?

      1. Are you always this whiny?

      2. It’s weird that the link to your evidence of Scott’s (and CNN’s) factual error didn’t publish.

        Sorry if you’re unaware. So, let’s do a timeline.

        1/18/18: House Intel Committee votes to release the Nunes memo to other House members.
        1/29/18: House Intel committee votes to release Nunes memo to the public.
        1/29/18: At the same hearing, House Intel Committee votes to release Democrat memo to House members. All GOP members voted to release the Dem memo to House members.

        To claim that they are refusing to release it is, simply, a lie. They are having it proceed the exact same path the Nunes memo took. And, unlike the Dems, the GOP supports releasing THIS memo as well. They just won’t do it immediately because they didn’t do that with Nunes memo either.

        Even weirder is that the whole paragraph you wrote proving malicious intent that would make such an error a lie rather than a mistake didn’t publish.

        Seems odd that these mistakes always seem to go one way, ain’t it? At a point, one might think they aren’t mistakes.

        1. Surely the timing has nothing to do with letting Nunes’ memo sit out there unrebutted for a week or two…. Republicans are just sticking to principles and process here, people.

          1. Surely the timing has nothing to do with letting Nunes’ memo sit out there unrebutted for a week or two…. Republicans are just sticking to principles and process here, people.

            So, the whining about how it’s “reckless” to release this memo — even though the other House members have had nearly 2 weeks to see it themselves — is bullshit and the Dems just want to have ZERO oversight of their memo?

            Sorry, the minority doesn’t get nor warrant special privileges. This is how it is done and this how it is done for all. The GOP is treating the Dems the way they treated this memo. Perhaps next time the Democrats (who, mind you, have decided to not even read the Nunes memo — almost all of the uproar over it is from people who have never seen it) want to have their voice out, they should submit it at the same time.

            Just an idea.

            1. Or, put another way, these aren’t ‘lies’ but rather they are highly selective truths that lead one to a preordained conclusion.

              Simply put, it’s the very soul of ‘spin’.

            2. Yes, the Dems should have prepared their rebuttal to the memo before they were even allowed to see. Perfectly logical!

        2. Okay but the CNN article that Scott linked to said the exact opposite of that. To wit:

          But in another party-line vote, the committee voted against making a competing Democratic memo from Rep. Adam Schiff of California available as well.

          So, again, please link to evidence to support your claim that the opposite is true. And if it’s not too much trouble, demonstrate malice on the part of Scott or CNN in their error.

          1. They made it available to all House members. Just like with Nunes. This is a lie that they refuse to release it. They are going to do so…the exact same way they did.

          2. “In the same meeting, the committee voted against publicly releasing a memo drafted by the minority and intended as a rebuttal to the majority’s document, which was written by Chairman Devin Nunes’ staff with input from Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina.

            [Below the fold, conveniently]

            For now, the minority’s memo will be made accessible to all members of the House in the committee’s secure spaces. Republicans on the committee have said they would revisit making the minority’s memo fully public in the coming weeks.”

            (I don’t know how to post a link?it keeps telling me it is too long. But that is from a CBS News online article entitled “House Intelligence Committee votes to release Nunes memo on FBI, DOJ”).

            While not blatantly false to say “they voted against making it available to the public,” a better description would say: “They voted against making it available to the public immediately.”

  6. Many of these Republican members of Congress who are acting outraged about the surveillance of Trump just voted to renew and expand the FBI’s authority to snoop on American citizens through this secret system. And Trump himself signed the bill into law.

    Well, there’s clearly a difference between spying on lowly citizens and spying our nation’s elite.

  7. If Van Jones were suspected of being an agent of a foreign power in 2009, the FOX News set would probably like to know. Of course they thought POTUS already was an agent of a foreign power. Niggeria, I believe.

    1. Funny hearing you commenting on Trump racism while Obama was buddy-buddy with Farrakhan and the media kept that silent his entire term in office. I guess they didn’t need to speak truth to power then.

      1. What a tool.

        1. Farrakhan certainly is. And like several other of Obama’s friends, quite racist.

          Funny how many bigots Obama was buddy-buddy with, huh? Who was that noted anti-Semite the LA Times has a video of Obama speaking with that they;ve sat on for years now?

          Isn’t it odd that the media did so much to cover up for Obama?

          1. Well, you know about it, so they did a pretty shitty job.

            You don’t find it odd that none of Obama’s alleged horrible behavior is practically a speck in the universe of presidential horrible behavior given recent events?

          2. It’s amazing that America decided that putting a politician from Chicago into the POTUS slot was a good idea, but then again maybe America forgot how slimy every politician from Chicago is.

            1. All politicians are slimy.

    2. “Niggeria”

      Seriously? I guess you’re that white supremacist the left is always harping about.

      1. It’s well established that the left believes in institutional racism.

      2. It’s code.

  8. …potentially inappropriate behavior between people close to Trump and foreign governments.

    That’s a pretty sharp value judgment from the open borders people. We can’t be okay with inviting foreign elements at street level only. If homegrown workers must compete with an immigrant labor force, then also It’s only fair our various political narratives go up against outside talking points, head to head.

    Now, what’s all this about a memo?

  9. Not a memo, a mission statement.

  10. The Nunes memo is an interpretation of classified intelligence that was used to get authorization to snoop on Page. But it’s not the intelligence itself. So if we’re willing to acknowledge that part of the motivation to release the memo is to protect Trump, we have to acknowledge that this memo is probably not going to tell the whole story.

    Cool moe dee. Then why are the Democrats screaming bloody murder about how releasing the memo revealed super-secret intelligence?

    1. One report — take it for what its worth — indicates Nunes’ memo requires no redactions. Who knows as these sources tend to be full of shit.

  11. Both issues are important but the memo issue is much larger. This memo states the Obama administration used false information (the Steele dossier) to obtain a FISA warrant so they could wiretap the communications of the Trump campaign and help secure the victory for HRC. That fact alone should scare the hell out of everyone. If true, this event will make Watergate look trivial. Breaking into the offices of the opposing party to obtain info is nothing compared to using the federal court system to obtain authorization to infiltrate the communications of the other party.

    1. Is everyone forgetting too, that once Trump was elected, elements in the FBI & DOJ have tried to foment a coup?….It is all out in plain sight for all to see!

  12. You can always tell precisely whose ox is getting gored when Reason goes into Pox On Both Houses mode.

  13. I am glum today because Stormy Daniels recanted and I probably won’t be seeing pictures of those boobs with her standing somewhere behind them.

    I heard a brief breathless CNN report early last night that Mueller didn’t meet the White House “threshold” for any interview. Then that story vanished. ????

    When the Inspector General, FBI division, releases its voluminous report in March the info will flesh out a lot of skeletons with hard evidence. Apparently for some time frustrated FBI agents have been going to the IG to complain that they were asked by superiors to modify the interview reports they must do within 24 hrs (FBI Form 302.) In normal course, such paperwork must thereafter remain sacred, nothing added, noting deleted. That is usual law enforcement procedure. If I even thought of taking back my initial report and changing something, I would have been fired.

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