Right Opinion

Dueling Memos

Bill Wagner · Feb. 7, 2018

A little over a week ago, prior to the release of the GOP memo, I suggested that it would be far better if the Democrat memo and all underlying info that didn’t compromise national security were released at the same time. After watching the performance of both sides since, that suggestion has morphed into an impassioned plea. It’s not just that I’m tired of the rhetorical tit-for-tat games, the latest of which is the Democrats’ ploy to load up their memo with classified sources and methods that will require Trump to redact some sections and allow Democrats to claim that he is once again obstructing justice. It’s that the cumulative effect is reaching the critical mass of destroying trust in the justice system. I’m not trying to go Boy Scout on you, but that’s really not good.

Government has a number of implied contracts with its citizens, but few are more important than the one that gives the government enormous power via the justice system to take away our property, privacy or liberty in return for security. There are procedures in place hopefully to ensure that this deal is by the numbers, but in many cases the linchpin of that bargain is trust. If that breaks down, the entire system can collapse, because it is not always possible to know and monitor everything. The dueling rhetoric over summaries of the accusations under the GOP memo is certainly polarizing the situation further, but far more importantly, it is fracturing the trust in our institutions.

Normally I would approach the release of classified info, particularly info that could have political motives/implications, with a huge dose of caution. The slippery slope precedent should be obvious, and potentially very dangerous. But we are beyond that. The balance has shifted to the more important need to regain trust in the system, and only giving the public access to everything (caveated by not compromising national security) in raw form, not filtered by what might be perceived as partisan bias, will do.

There is a lot of noise here, but the fundamental issue should scare the bejesus out of everyone of every political persuasion. The federal government is being accused of using the power of the justice system to spy on citizens of the opposing political party during and after a presidential campaign by misleading the FISA court gatekeeper (which is supposed to protect those citizens) into giving it permission. But what we actually “know” about this comes mostly from summary memos, leaks and spin. Partisans on each side believe their guys, and the vast middle doesn’t have a clue what’s real. This has to stop.

Consider some of the dueling rhetoric that has reached absurd levels.

The media, in what can only be considered a newly found bizarre obsession with not making possible government abuse public, and the Democrats did everything but handstands to try to prevent the GOP memo from seeing the light of day. First it was because it might compromise national security by revealing sources and methods. When that was debunked, it became concern over innuendo and half-truths that would lead to a war on law enforcement and the justice system, destroy the credibility of the system, and be Armageddon for the nation. But when none of that proved true, it suddenly became a nothingburger. Which is it?

Some of the subtle attempts to diminish the credibility of the GOP memo were too cute by half. My favorites were the descriptions of the length of the document. At first the media referred to the memo as a “four-page document,” but when the initial efforts to trash it failed, it suddenly became a “three and a half-page document,” compared to the Democrat memo, which is 10 pages — as if length mattered. By the way, were those single- or double-spaced pages?

Democrats have complained that Trump wouldn’t agree to release their memo at the same time as the GOP memo and screamed bias, obstruction and war on the justice system. But they never put their memo through the scrutiny required by the process. When they did, everyone agreed to give it the exact same look as the GOP one and release it if it passed the national security test. But it made for a few days of anti-Trump soundbites.

The key to deciding if the FISA court was misled involves the infamous Trump “dossier.” According to the GOP memo, the dossier was a critical (but admittedly not the only) factor in gaining the warrant to spy on Trump folks, and there was never any disclosure to the court about that or the origin and funding of the dossier, which are obvious facts that might have influenced the court’s view of the credibility of the submission. One of the main protections of citizens that might be caught up in this is that all information that could potentially impact not giving the warrant must be presented.

The memo also cited a senior FBI guy who in congressional testimony under oath said the FBI would never have even sought a FISA warrant without the dossier. And yet the FBI had previously admitted that much of the dossier was at worst bogus and at minimum unverified, which is also a requirement for FISA court submissions. Democrats then claimed that the FBI guy never really said what he said; he only cited the dossier as one of many factors. In something this important, he said/she said is totally unacceptable when the truth can be found in the transcript. Just make it public. What a novel idea.

Then the claim was made that a footnote on a page in the warrant application made a reference to some vague political connection to the information included, and that should have been enough for the judge. Specifies were not needed. First of all, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, so tossing the judge under the bus might not be where Democrats want to go with this. Even so, the answer lies in the application itself and the transcript of the FISA hearing. Make it all public and remove all doubt.

As to the charge that the White House is encouraging the GOP so that the credibility of the FBI and Justice and, by extension, Mueller is destroyed, there is nothing in the memo that impacts Mueller. Even the credibility of Rosenstein, whose name is on the last three FISA applications (which were submitted after the FBI had to know that the first one had problems) that were approved possibly because he didn’t correct the record, isn’t necessarily destroyed. It is entirely possible that info was discovered after the first warrant approval that justified the next ones. Why not release all the applications and find out? And while we’re at it, let’s find out what other folks were under surveillance because of the warrants. The possibility that a warrant was obtained under false premises on an obscure hanger on the Trump campaign (Carter Page) for the purpose of spying on other more important members of the campaign, even Trump himself, is as bad as it gets. The applications should provide the answers, and uncertainty only adds to the trust breakdown.

I also don’t buy the logic that if Mueller’s probe was in part justified by bogus or even illegal tactics, the poison fruit requires that it be terminated. Sadly you can’t unring that bell, and whatever he knows now should rule. The probe should rise or fall on its own merits, not on how it may have gotten started. The fact that he has uncovered no evidence of collusion in over a year should speak for itself.

The FBI fought against the GOP memo release, but that now appears to be due to a disclosure in the memo that the author of the dossier (a former British intel agent) was “a longtime FBI asset,” which might violate the rule against intel agencies using agents of other countries. That would of course be embarrassing and not enhance the relationship with our British counterparts, but doesn’t question facts in the memo. Why that wasn’t redacted is a mystery, but why don’t we just ask the FBI why it objected? It would seem that there is more overall benefit (regardless of what interim FBI/Justice embarrassment happens) in identifying what went wrong and who was responsible and cleaning things up (the stakes couldn’t be higher) than trying to cover things up. The rhetoric that any raising of these issues is an attack against all of the FBI, law enforcement and Justice is just silly. Find out which senior individuals were involved and hold them accountable — a process that has already begun with up to a half-dozen folks already let go or reassigned.

The bottom line is that trust matters more than anything at this point. Sure, release the Democrat memo, but far more importantly, get all of the underlying info that doesn’t compromise national security out. Stop the games and the rhetoric on both sides, allow the folks to see what their government has really been up to, and clean it up so that nothing remotely close to the abuse of power involved comes close to ever happening again.

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