News & Politics

Will Release of the FISA Abuse Memo Be a Game-Changer?

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The fight to release the four-page memo detailing alleged FBI and Justice Department abuse of FISA warrants intensified over the weekend as numerous Republicans called for the document to be made public while Democrats angrily dismissed the effort as a partisan attempt to undermine the credibility of the FBI and the Mueller investigation.

The Hill:

“It’s alarming. … You all need to see it,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “More importantly, the American public needs to see it. What the FBI did is just as wrong as it can be.”

Some Republicans speculated that the memo could provoke criminal prosecutions, or at the very least, that it would lead to the firings of those involved.

“They need to be held accountable,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).

Democrats dismissed the findings as a desperate partisan attempt to smear the FBI and muddy the waters around what they view as a legitimate investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin. Lawmakers described them as “talking points,” “misleading” and in some cases, “lies.”

For now, it remains a mystery what allegations — or proof — the highly sought memo contains. Members of both parties were tight-lipped about the details of the four-page document, which they signed a waiver to view that barred them from discussing the contents.

Members of both parties described the memo as a top-line summary they say is backed up by classified documents and interviews they were not allowed to see.

“There’s no one that can talk about this with any degree of knowledge if you weren’t in the Gang of 8, because we haven’t seen the documents,” said committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), referring to a core group of congressional leaders with higher-level security clearances. “Nobody has.”

Because the underlying material supporting the memo’s conclusions is highly classified, Democrats noted, the document cannot be taken as proof of the allegations it contains.

“I think the whole political purpose of this is to make a misleading case to the public, perpetuate the president’s political narrative, but not let the public see the underlying materials that would show just how distorted it is — I think that’s by design,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

“The problem is, we can’t point out the inaccuracies without relying on the underlying material,” he said.

Schiff has been one of the more partisan warriors on the Intelligence Committee during the Russia investigation, so, of course, he would want to distract from any conclusions drawn about the actions of Obama-era officials.

But there is some question about the conclusions drawn in the memo because it was apparently written by Republican staffers on the Intelligence Committee. If Schiff is right about the “underlying materials” fleshing out the charges, including interviews and documentary evidence, it should all be released so that any hint of partisanship is removed.

But that’s not going to happen, even if Republicans would agree (many won’t). So we are left with the prospect that, even if the memo is released, it will be dismissed by Democrats and the press as just another exercise in partisanship.

A shame, that. The fact that there is controversy at all regarding the actions of Obama-era officials during the presidential campaign is reason enough to open the files and let the American people decide whether Republicans are exaggerating the accusations against Obama officials or whether Democrats are whistling past the graveyard in dismissing them.

But since all that is likely to be released is the FISA abuse memo, it’s not likely to be a game changer. But it might make a world of difference if the evidence upon which the charges in the memo are based came to light. If seen as credible, it would flip the entire impeachment scenario and put Republicans in the driver’s seat.