For months, it has been obvious that some Republicans in Congress are eager to give cover to President Trump’s complaint that the investigation into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is a politically motivated “witch hunt.” On Monday, the majority of the House Intelligence Committee put that shameful strategy into practice.
The panel voted along party lines to make public a ballyhooed memo purporting to show that the investigation now being pursued by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was tainted from the beginning by partisan bias. The White House can block release of the document, but Trump has signaled that he wants it to be released despite opposition from his own Justice Department.
We welcome any effort by Congress to be genuinely transparent, especially on controversial and polarizing issues. This move, however, falls short of genuine transparency on at least a couple of levels.
For one thing, the panel’s Republican majority rejected a proposal to simultaneously release a dissenting document prepared by committee Democrats, who have dismissed the Republican memo as a “misleading set of talking points.” The Democrats’ response will be viewed by House members and could be released later — after the Republicans’ spin on the underlying classified information has dominated a few news cycles.
For another, the committee isn’t seeking to release the actual documents used in the case. Instead, the memo provides an interpretation of those documents prepared under the direction of California’s own Rep. Devin Nunes, the committee chairman. That’s all the more reason to release it alongside the Democrats’ interpretation of those files.
We haven’t seen the GOP memo, but Republicans who have read it have described it in sensational terms that makes it clear that it will be music to Trump’s ears. For example, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who has theorized that "the [James] Comey FBI and the Obama Justice Department worked with one campaign to go after the other campaign,” said the memo contains “some of the most alarming things I've ever read.”
The memo reportedly asserts that an application for a court order to conduct surveillance on a Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page, drew on information from Christopher Steele, a former British spy who created the now notorious “dossier” about alleged contacts between Trump and Russia that was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. But the fact that Steele’s research might have been part of the basis for the court order doesn’t mean that other matters weren’t cited in the application to the court or that subsequent investigations were unjustified.
Moreover, Nunes’ involvement in this project undermines its credibility. Last year, the Republican from Tulare traveled to the White House to brief Trump about information he had obtained about supposedly improper “unmasking” of members of the Trump transition team whose names had appeared in U.S. intelligence intercepts. Later, it was reported that the source of Nunes’ information was someone at the White House. The unmasking “scandal” failed to materialize, but Nunes’ freelancing led to him recusing himself from the panel’s probe of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
The underlying allegations being investigated by Congress and by Mueller are as serious as can be. It’s alarming and infuriating that a foreign government may have sought to subvert our elections — and it’s almost inconceivable and even more outrageous that a candidate might possibly participate in such subversion. Accusations this grave need to be investigated and considered objectively, carefully and without fear or favor. The idea that either party — or both parties — would turn such serious issues into opportunities for partisan gain or self-interested gamesmanship is a sign of how dysfunctional and amoral Washington has become.
Again, we haven’t seen either the Republican memo or the dissent from Democrats. But the Intelligence Committee’s willingness to ram through a partisan document that apparently confirms Trump’s narrative — while bottling up a different interpretation of the same facts — is dismaying. It also could be dangerous if it tempts this impulsive president to take action to bring the “witch hunt” to an end by firing Mueller or Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, assuming that he would find willing apologists in Congress. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday said that release of the memo was “a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller’s investigation, and his investigation should be allowed to continue.” Unfortunately, Trump might not make that distinction.