Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Nunes hoisted by his own petard


The Nunes memo is more than the bust I predicted. It is a bomb. It not only fails spectacularly to live up to the hysterical Republican descriptions of its contents and impact, it actually detonates several of the most cherished narratives that President Trump and his backers have attempted to weave in his defense.

Those narratives, and the evidence against them, are:

1.) The FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was inspired by the supposedly faulty Steele dossier. Therefore, because the Steele dossier had been funded in part by Democrats, the entire FBI investigation is a partisan effort and must be abandoned.

WRONG. To the contrary, the Nunes’ memo is forced to acknowledge point-blank that the FBI counterintelligence investigation had origins of a very different kind, and had nothing to do with the dossier.

In May 2016, Trump adviser George Papadopoulus bragged over drinks to the Australian ambassador to Great Britain that Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton emails and would use them to help Trump. At the time of that meeting, nobody else had even been aware the hacking had occurred. Once those hacked emails indeed began turning up, as Papadopoulus predicted, the Australian government tipped off American authorities that they had trouble. 

That was the start of the FBI investigation. As Nunes writes in his memo, “the Papadopoulus information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.”

Not the Steele dossier. The Papadopoulus information.

2.) The court-approved wiretapping of Page somehow proves Trump correct when he complained that the Obama administration was wiretapping Trump Tower and spying on his campaign. Furthermore, this alleged spying on the Trump campaign by the Obama adminstration proves the highly partisan nature of the FBI’s Russian probe.

WRONG on both counts: 

According to the Nunes memo, the first FISA application to wiretap Page came on Oct. 21, 2016, a mere two weeks before the election. According to Page, he had broken all remaining ties with the Trump campaign more than a month earlier. 

According to the Trump campaign, those ties had never existed in the first place.

In an email to The Hill on Sept. 23, 2016, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said that “Mr. Page is not an adviser and has made no contribution to the campaign. I've never spoken to him, and wouldn't recognize him if he were sitting next to me.”

“He’s never been a part of our campaign,” Miller said. “Period.” 

So: 

As a matter of basic chronology, it is impossible for the FBI and the Obama administration to have spied upon the Trump campaign via Page or to have intended to spy upon the Trump campaign via Page, or to use Page to spy on the Trump transition, when Page had either broken all ties to that campaign a month prior to the first eavesdropping, or had no ties to break in the first place.

3.) WIthout the Steele dossier, the FBI and DOJ had no basis to request wiretapping of Page as a possible Russian spy.

WRONG:  Let’s look back again to September 2016. Why was the Trump campaign so emphatic about distancing itself from Page? Well, it did so out of fear of being tarnished by Page’s alleged ties to Russian spies.

And what inspired those fears? It certainly wasn’t the Steele dossier, which wouldn’t surface publicly until months later. The Trump campaign rushed to disassociate itself from Page because of the plethora of evidence already in the public realm about Page’s potentially dangerous connections to the Kremlin. In other words, it divorced itself from Page for a lot of the same reasons the FBI took such an interest in him.

 

4.) The Nunes memo means that the Mueller investigation must be ended and Rod Rosenstein fired if not prosecuted.

Or as U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona put it Friday afternoon: “The full-throated adoption of this illegal misconduct and abuse of FISA by James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein is not just criminal but constitutes treason. I will be leading a letter to the attorney general seeking criminal prosecution against these traitors to our nation.” 

Or, in the words of the president himself: 

“I think it’s terrible. I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on in this country. I think it’s a disgrace.”

WRONG: And also completely nuts.

The memo literally says nothing whatsoever about the integrity of Mueller’s probe, and in fact confirms its necessity. It also raises no issues of competence, partisanship or bias on the part of Rosenstein, who is now Trump’s favorite target. The claims that it contained some earthshaking revelation that would discredit either man or his work is entirely invented.

Let me defer to U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, chair of the House Oversight Committee.


Ka-boom.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.