Nunes memo is bad news for everyone involved

Ysabela Golden

On Friday, Feb. 2, Trump authorized the release of the Nunes memo, a four-page memorandum making the claim that the evidence (a dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele) the FBI used to get a warrant against Trump’s former campaign adviser was partially financed by both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. 

Whether the document is true or not, it’s clearly damaging to the ongoing Russia investigation, since “may have used fabricated evidence while investigating treason” is a bad look on anybody, much less a national security organization. To make the situation even more complicated, before the memo was declassified, Democrats protested that it was “not the same document” the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee had been reviewing since mid-January, an accusation Rep. Devin Nunes didn’t deny, but instead insisted that the changes he made were “minor” enough that they weren’t relevant.

Following this conflict on Wednesday, Jan. 31, the FBI made a surprise public statement condemning the Republican-crafted document due to their “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” To say that it is unusual for the FBI to publicly discredit congressional committees is an understatement. Of course, even the most neutral centrist could tell you that political developments since 2016 have been one exponentially unusual situation after the other. So, as surprising as it would normally be for U.S. current events to be playing out like a poorly scripted James Bond movie, in 2018 it just feels like par for the course. 

What’s really concerning here isn’t the accusations against the DNC or the Clinton campaign (who don’t really have a reputation to ruin anyway), but the fact that House Republicans seem to have joined the president in actively feuding against the FBI and Department of Justice. Still in recent memory are Trump’s December accusations against former FBI heads Andrew McCabe and James Comey (of accepting bribes to ease up on Clinton’s email scandal, which I guess we’re still pretending is relevant for some reason). Even at the time, Trump’s accusations were theorized to be attempts at distracting the public from the progress of Robert Mueller’s investigation, which seems even more likely after Friday’s united Republican attempt to undermine it entirely. 

The idea of the White House and the FBI being publicly opposed to each other is conceptually horrifying in a way that even two years of disturbing headlines in the U.S. have rarely measured up to. The fact that the FBI has a 110-year history of clashes with the presidency that it has definitely come out on top of just raises the question of what the Trump administration even thinks it’s doing, picking a fight with such an unfortunate historical precedent.

Whether or not adding a Republican-majority Congress to the equation will shift the tide in the president’s favor, the Nunes memo represents an escalation in a conflict that can’t possibly be good for anybody, least of all the American people, who now have our domestic intelligence community and most powerful American political party going for each other’s necks. This isn’t just a fight between Republicans and Democrats anymore. Whether it’s Trump or Mueller who emerges victorious, it’s clear that the battle itself is going to be messy, complicated and public on such a scale that the results are going to be drastically unpleasant for absolutely everyone involved.