The biggest impact of the Nunes Memo – and the accompanying wave of propaganda – is that conventional news and commentary is incapable of handling willful lying in the public sphere. This is a pattern we’ve seen again and again. It’s one of the hallmarks of this political age. It’s worth saying it again: conventional media is not equipped to deal with willful lying in the public sphere.
Let’s consider the coverage of the Nunes Memo.
It’s fair to say that most commentary and reporting – outside of Fox and other propaganda-oriented conservative news outlets – has noted that the Nunes Memo picks out one piece of data and excludes all the rest, creating what is at best a highly misleading understanding about what happened with the Carter Page FISA warrant. There’s lot of good reporting on this. If you read widely you can get a fairly clear understanding of the situation, especially if you read the day after reporting which has pointed out how many of the Memo’s specific claims are not just misleading but expressly false. Still, however, you hear sensible people stating that the Memo’s claims were overstated, that the overall picture is a mix of both sides arguments, that the GOP argument about politicization is overstated, etc.
Listen to Chris Cillizza a few moments ago on CNN …
I think ultimately – I’m actually with [former Trump advisor Jason Miller] in that – I don’t know that either of these [memos] are the smoking gun that either side wanted. I know conservatives insist the Nunes memo – I shouldn’t lump them together – some conservatives think the Nunes memo, now that it has been released, proves once and for all that everything is totally fine and that Donald Trump is exonerated. I don’t think that’s so. I don’t think the Schiff memo is going to say, oh, my gosh, here it is, the smoking gun we have been waiting for.
Cillizza is one example. The upshot of the press coverage is that the Nunes Memo was likely overstated and political. But the idea that bias or anti-Trump animus helped drive the Russia probe remains as a reasonable viewpoint that needs to be accorded some respect amidst the clutter of conflicting claims and reports.
The reality is different.
This is actually quite black and white. There’s no evidence of politicized intelligence or law enforcement or counter-intelligence work at all. Actually not any. All the evidence is based on false claims, logical fallacies or intentionally misleading representations of how standard law enforcement procedures work. There’s also a high brow version of this which redirects the conversation toward longstanding and legitimate concerns about whether the FISA system is consistent with the rule of law in the first place. This is a grave error which only confuses the situation and makes general considerations about the rule of law into a tool of someone trying to trample on it.
The FBI and its counter-intelligence branch is and long has been a generally conservative institution. That doesn’t mean it’s “biased.” The possibility that people can remain professional in spite of personal political beliefs is a cornerstone premise of democratic government. But the notion of anti-Republican or anti-Trump bias is really preposterous on its face.
Still, we don’t need arguments from general principles. Yesterday I mentioned Harry Reid’s angry end-of-campaign letter to James Comey where he claimed that Comey “possess[ed] explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government.” This is unquestionably accurate. Comey, Obama, the top 8 on Capitol Hill (leaders and intel chairs) all knew or could have known about a parcel of intelligence that would have been explosive in the final weeks of the campaign. It is important to consider all of this from the perspective of that moment. If the leadership of the FBI or the DOJ had been trying to throw the election against Trump as opposed to doing their counter-intelligence jobs, they had information in their hands that quite possibly would have destroyed Trump’s candidacy. And yet all of this information remained totally secret.
There is a very decent argument – certainly the one Reid was making – that it was both unfair and illegitimate to keep this information a secret while trivial matters about Hillary Clinton were widely publicized. Set that aside though. The fact that none of this information was leaked – when it easily could have been – is the surest proof that the key players were going out of their way not to damage Trump’s candidacy. That point is completely obvious.
I have always been sensitive – I think more sensitive than most – to the difficult situation counter-intelligence leaders and Barack Obama found themselves in here. Our system is simply not used to or equipped to deal with a serious counter-intelligence probe targeting a major party nominee’s campaign. If you have garden variety corruption, it may be as indictable as easily after the election as before. It is containable in a way foreign subversion is not. In this case, the stakes and equities are considerably higher. Do you bring explosive information to the public when the full truth isn’t yet clear? You start investigations based on reasonable suspicions not necessarily proof. That’s what an investigation is. Do you risk inviting the obvious claims that the incumbent President is using the intelligence services to assist his favored candidate? It’s an almost impossible situation, one our system is not really equipped to deal with, one Donald Trump put us in.
The fact that the minutiae of Hillary Clinton’s email practices were being litigated in public may add to the injustice of the situation. But it really doesn’t help with or resolve that quandary. All we can say in retrospect is that the surest evidence counter-intelligence investigators weren’t operating from political motives is that they consistently did not do the things that would have harmed Trump politically, even though there were decent, legitimate arguments for doing so.
This all brings us back to the essential point. We don’t yet know what if anything Donald Trump is guilty of. We largely know on the obstruction front. The “collusion” front is much less clear. But all the evidence we have suggests a professional and if anything quite cautious investigation, one run from first to last by Republicans and on critical fronts by Donald Trump’s own nominees and appointees. The entirety of the “Deep State” anti-Trump bias storyline is no more than fakery and lies designed to cover up Trump’s misdeeds. It’s an effort that every member of the Republican party, up to its highest leaders like Paul Ryan, have made themselves party to. Yet none of it amounts to more than a big lie, The Big Lie. It’s just something repeated over and over to give it an appearance of verisimilitude even though it’s simply a lie concocted to defend President Trump at any cost.