The release of the "Nunes memo” is done and the United States still stands.
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The release of “the memo” is done and the United States still stands.
Indeed, we are stronger for it.
First, the memo did not contain super-secret classified information. Nothing asserted in it will do any harm whatsoever to national security.
Second, what is apparent from the document, written by Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee, is that the Department of Justice relied, perhaps not exclusively, but heavily on a biased political hit piece to launch secret surveillance on a private citizen — one not engaged in espionage, but politics. Carter Page was a volunteer adviser to the Donald Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
Third, that hit piece — known as the Steele dossier — was commissioned by Democratic operatives in service to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
And fourth, the Department of Justice clearly abused its power in using the Steele dossier to justify wiretapping Mr. Page. A FISA warrant is supposed to show probable cause that the person being surveilled is a foreign agent and has committed a crime.
The problem with FISA warrants, generally, is the watering down of the probable cause standard. In this case, the judge surely should have been more curious. But the FBI also did not advise the judge fully, as it should have, of the nature of its evidence — a “salacious and unverified” document created and paid for by Mr. Trump’s political enemies. Those words — salacious and unverified — come from James Comey.
Thus we have the FBI engaged in domestic spying for purely political reasons. If that seems like no big deal, ask yourself if it wouldn’t be a big deal if it happened during the Nixon presidency rather than the Obama one. This is a very big deal. It is an abridgment of constitutional government.
We were told by opponents of the memo’s release that the memo was highly misleading and that it cherry-picked information to draw its conclusions.
But even if the memo selectively revealed information the central point remains: the government itself — the Department of Justice itself — abused the law and acted, in this instance, more like a politicized police state than law enforcement.
The FBI exists to protect citizens, not spy on them because they are on “the wrong side.”
The justice department would not be the first powerful law enforcement agency to cringe and balk at having its mistakes and abuses aired in public. But if the FBI and the department are to be restored to apolitical professionalism, the truth must come out. This bit of sunlight should lead to more. Ideally, a non-partisan commission should be formed to investigate malpratice and illegal activity at the FBI and to make a recommendation on how to rid the bureau’s top management echelon of politics.
Such a commission could tell the whole story. Not only does the country deserve that, but some 35,000 FBI agents in the field — who do not play politics with theirs jobs — do, too.
Finally, its should be said that the memo does not delegitimize Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the last U.S. presidential election.
The Department of Justice and the FBI misusing the FISA law, two weeks before a presidential election, is a very serious and disturbing malfunction. It is a constitutional malfunction, and it may turn out to be far more serious than Russian tampering. But it does not follow that the attempted tampering should be forgotten or that Mr. Mueller, a private citizen when the FBI’s spying on Mr. Page occurred, is somehow compromised.
One abuse of the justice system does not justify, or negate, another. We need the lights on both matters, and we need them to keep shining.
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