The Shameless Hypocrisy of the Nunes Memo

The Shameless Hypocrisy of the Nunes Memo February 3, 2018

The Trump administration released the now-infamous Nunes memo on Friday and it just highlights how shamelessly hypocritical he, Nunes and the entire GOP at this point is on the subject of the FBI, the FISA court and the need for safeguards to protect privacy in those proceedings.

I’m sure you know the gist of the memo by now. The argument, at least by implication, goes something like this:

1. During one of at least three times that the FBI and DOJ asked for a wiretap on former Trump adviser Carter Page (which started before he was a Trump adviser), they used some unspecified information from the Steele dossier.

2. The Steele dossier was paid for by the Democrats and Christopher Steele did not want Trump to win the election.

3. The FBI did not mention that bias when they requested the warrant.

4. Therefore, the entire Russia investigation is a sham cooked up by the Democrats to destroy Donald Trump and Robert Mueller and everyone else involved should be put to death for treason. Or something.

All of this, of course, is utter nonsense. The surveillance of Carter Page began before he was a Trump adviser and was spurred by the FBI having caught him on wiretaps speaking to Russian intelligence agents, and seen his name mentioned as being an asset they were developing in the United States. That alone is way, way more than enough probable cause to get such a warrant issued and, since it started long before the Steele dossier ever came to the FBI and before he was a Trump adviser, the accusations of bias are totally irrelevant.

Add to that the fact that in the middle of the campaign, Page traveled to Russia, met with the 2nd highest ranking man in the Russian government and gave a speech against the United States and praising Putin. That was the primary basis for restarting the wiretaps, not the Steele dossier. And nowhere does the memo say what information from that dossier was used or why it might have been inaccurate. If that information was not inaccurate, the accusations of bias become even more irrelevant.

But here’s the even more important part, the shameless hypocrisy. As Julian Sanchez correctly notes, the very same people crying crocodile tears about how terribly unfair it was that Page got his communications tapped pursuant to a legal FISA warrant have voted repeatedly in favor of totally warrantless wiretaps in all national security investigations that don’t include Trump advisers.

Conspicuously, however, many of the representatives who’ve most vocally touted the supposedly explosive contents of the Nunes memo do not appear to believe the systemic abuse of intelligence authorities they’re alleging demands a rethinking of any of those authorities. As national security blogger Marcy Wheeler notes, the same Steve King who thought the Nunes memo documented abuses “worse than Watergate” not only voted to extend section 702 for another 6 years, but voted against an amendment that would have imposed a warrant requirement on queries of the 702 database pertaining to Americans. So did Nunes himself, as well as Reps. Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis.

This should seem incongruous on its face. One need not believe that there are ongoing partisan conspiracies within the FBI and Justice Department to support more stringent civil liberties safeguards on the broad spying authorities the intelligence community has accumulated over the past two decades. But it is very hard to understand how one could believe such a conspiracy exists—indeed, continues to be covered up by sitting officials—yet reject even the idea of pausing to debate such safeguards before renewing precisely the sorts of powers one claims have been abused.

In fact, Nunes co-authored the legislation that expanded FBI powers and reauthorized Section 702 of FISA to allow the DOJ to use it to crack down on political dissent without any judicial review.

So for those scoring at home: Not only are they in favor of totally warrantless wiretaps for everyone else, and not only are they in favor of using national security investigations to shut down political dissent, but they will shame anyone who voted otherwise as clearly anti-American and probably Kenyan Marxist Muslim terrorists too. But they are suddenly overwhelmed with concern over the privacy rights of Carter Page, who was wiretapped due to a completely justified warrant issued by the FISA court. They can’t even pretend to be anything other than shameless hypocrites.

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