Citing the Nunes memo, Trump defenders want us to believe that a FISA judge might not have been fully informed by the FBI when asked to approve a warrant to spy on Carter Page. The charge is probably false, but that’s what they want us to believe.
From there, however, things get ridiculous. They also want us to believe that the FISA controversy ought to be a much bigger scandal, and draw much more attention and outrage, than the claim that a presidential campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, and that the president has illegally attempted to obstruct the investigation into that collusion.
One of those things is bigger than the other, they claim, and the larger thing is the alleged FISA scandal.
President Trump, as is his wont, takes it a step even further.
Nobody of any intelligence who read the Nunes memo would claim that it vindicates Trump in any way. It doesn’t address the issue of Trump’s ultimate guilt or innocence even tangentially. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Consider the words one of the leading attack dogs on the Republican right, the actual author of what we know as the Nunes memo:
Appearing on “Face The Nation,” U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy was asked whether the memo vindicates Trump, as the president claims.
“Not to me it doesn’t, and I was pretty intricately involved in the drafting of it,” Gowdy responds. “There is a Russia investigation without the dossier, so to the extent that the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting in Trump Tower, the dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by (Trump campaign contractor) Cambridge Analytica, the dossier has nothing to do with George Papadopoulus’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So there’s going to be a Russia probe even without a dossier.”
“There are three Republicans that have seen every bit of information,” Gowdy said later in that same interview. “Three of us: Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the Judiciary; Johnny Ratcliffe, who's a former terrorism prosecutor and U.S. attorney in Texas, and me. All three of us have total confidence in the FBI and DOJ to be able to do the jobs that they have been assigned. We have confidence in Bob Mueller, and we have serious concerns about this process. So, we have all three of those things in common, including being concerned about what--what happened in 2016.”
“You need an investigation into Russia. You need an investigation into Trump Tower and the Cambridge Analytica email, separate and apart from the dossier. So those are not connected issues to me. They may be for other Republicans, but they're not for me.”
Given Gowdy’s history, those are pretty remarkable statements. By rattling off the various strands of evidence that point to collusion, by adding the question of obstruction, the former federal prosecutor makes it clear that he does not believe this to be a witch hunt, as Trump has repeatedly described it. He says that he has not seen actual evidence of collusion himself, but he believes that at the very least, these are important events that deserve full investigation. And while he might disagree with individual decisions made by FBI and DOJ officials, “we've got to get to some point in life where you can disagree with the decision-making process that someone engaged in, without believing that they are corrupt or somehow part of the ‘deep state,’ whatever that means.”
There’s also something deeper going on. During most of his congressional career, Gowdy has been a highly aggressive Republican partisan, an approach that has made him a hero to many conservatives but often led him into morally dubious situations. That was most evident in the Benghazi investigation, when Gowdy took a series of mistakes leading to a tragedy and tried to inflate it into some sort of grand conspiracy of wrongdoing.
But these days, Gowdy seems to have some serious regrets about how he has handled himself, leading to his announcement last week that he would not run for re-election and would leaving politics altogether to return to the legal world.
“I enjoy being fair,” Gowdy said on “Face The Nation.” “I enjoy the pursuit of fairness as a virtue and I'm just more comfortable in that system. My wife hates it when I say this, but I -- I was a pretty good prosecutor, I think. But I've been a pretty lousy politician.”
Margaret Brennan gently pressed him to explain, and the interchange was fascinating:
REP. GOWDY: I just -- I-- I see multiple sides of a single issue. And the fact that someone disagrees with me, does not make me challenge their love of the country. It doesn't make me believe that they're corrupt. I've got a lot of friends on the other side of the aisle. We disagree on this issue, but I don't question their love for the country and I don't think the end justifies the means. I think the manner in which we get places matters, and in politics too often winning is the only thing that matters ....
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think you've served justice in your time in Congress?
REP. GOWDY: Not like I did in my previous job. I tried. It's about winning in politics, and that is not what -- the courtroom-- there's a reason we throw out search warrants even though we find the murder weapon. There's a reason we throw out confessions even though we think the person did it. The process matters. The end does not justify the means. And in politics, it's just about winning. And -- and I -- I can't -- I don't want to live like that.”
Gowdy’s congressional record will always be his record, for better or worse. But it’s pretty clear that in taking stock of that record, he has come to see the damage that is wreaked on the country by abandoning the pursuit of truth in pursuit of the cheaper thrill of victory. As he says, “I don’t want to live like that.”
From such words, I take a seed of optimism.