I covered Capitol Hill during my CNN phase, which was quite a while ago, but to this day, I have friends who are veteran members of Congress and, more importantly, members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. These are Washington “friends,” which is to say that when I’m reporting on them, they’re often adversaries. In return, they don’t give me any sort of favored treatment, particularly those on the two intelligence committees. Any conversation about the super-classified material they routinely see as they conduct their oversight of various national security operations is strictly off-limits. Since the committees were formed in the 1970s, their tradition has been proudly nonpartisan for obvious reasons, relative sanctuaries of harmony in the dissonant screech of politics.
On the Senate side, that still seems to be the approach, but certainly not at House Intelligence, which is chaired by Republican Devin Nunes. As Donald Trump’s hand puppet, Nunes has thrown out any pretense of collaboration. He has repeatedly tried to muddy the waters of an investigation into Donald Trump’s murky relationship with the Russian government and into whether Vladimir Putin colluded with Trump and/or associates to influence the precious election for the president of the United States. That investigation is being conducted, of course, by special counsel Robert Mueller. Now Nunes, or his staff, has released a memo that attempts to selectively contrive a case that all the Russia probes are somehow tainted by partisanship. He did so over the strenuous objections of the FBI and Justice Department that it gives away secrets. It was released to much fanfare, but frankly, it divulged nothing of consequence, unless you count revealing the desperation that Trump and his cohorts (accomplices) might be feeling as Mueller starts tightening the vise.
Nunes’ memo had no “there” there, but that didn’t stop the current president from tweeting about himself in the third person (which opens up a whole new avenue of speculation about his mindset, but I digress): “This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on.” Then he went on and on: “Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!”
We can debate whom is the real American disgrace, but collusion certainly is not dead, not if you count the obvious collusion between Nunes and the White House. He’s done this kind of clumsy thing before, obliterating any separation between his committee’s jealously guarded oversight role, and his unsightly willingness to do whatever the Trumpsters want.
Democrats predictably were bent out of shape, their twaddle flapping in outrage. But many Republicans were equally steamed. Rep. Trey Gowdy, as partisan as they come and a GOP member of House Intelligence: “The contents of this memo do not — in any way — discredit his investigation.”
As he so often does, Sen. John McCain kicked it up a notch: “The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests — no party’s, no president’s, only Putin’s.” So now we have Bob Mueller and the FBI plodding along with the investigation, and Donald Trump commissioning several actions to sabotage it. His tactics, and those of the ones who have cast their lots with him, involve building a case against those who are building a case against him. The question is how far he’ll go in that effort, and what happens if he ends up being officially accused of being the Moscowian candidate. Will the politicians ramp up the courage to take action against him, or will they, like Nunes, continue to be his hand puppet while he serves the same function for Vladimir Putin? What an image!
The Democrats had been agitating to put out their response to Nunes’ memo, their alternative version of the issue. Considering how little impact the GOP hucksters had, why bother?
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.