The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links were added after the fact. This conversation happened on February 4, 2018.
Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief
Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. This week’s loudest news was President Trump’s first State of the Union address, but the most important news was the release of an internal memo from the House Intelligence Committee alleging improprieties by the FBI in obtaining warrants to perform surveillance on the Trump campaign. Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee and spokespeople for the FBI have both alleged that the memo omits certain important (and still classified) facts, leading readers to inaccurate conclusions. There’s a lot of legal and process minutia around the memo, so let’s start with some groundwork: what’s the beef, here? What’s the big problem with releasing this memo?
Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor
So this memo basically purported that the request for a FISA warrant against Carter Page omitted the fact that the dossier was partially funded by the DNC, and thus the warrant was invalid. Disregarding how this would be a major accusation against the FBI, it ignores that the dossier was not really part of the FISA request, and so the whole thing is ridiculous. we should mention that many House Intel committee members have been coming out since the memo was released friday that it basically said nothing about Mueller or the investigation. In other words, Trey Gowdy (who was the one to actually review the FISA request) has been speaking to his lawyer.
David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor
I’ll add that it has been transparently indicated that Donald Trump wanted to use the release of this memo as a basis for firing Mueller or at least to hamstring the investigation into his campaign. Well, the contents of the memo actively undermine that attempt, given a cursory critical glance. But since those that are in the tank for Trump already won’t do that, it can still be pushed by Trump and his cronies to that end in public opinion. Which is why it’s important to state the facts over and over and push for the release of the counter memo before too much time has passed.
Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor
The key takeaway here is that a dishonest memo has been declassified by Trump and released by GOP leadership in order to undermine the investigation into… Trump and the GOP leadership. At this point I consider them all co-conspirators in a concerted effort to obstruct justice. Hilariously, the memo actually undermines its own argument by mentioning that the FBI’s investigation of Carter Page and Russian collusion began not with the dossier but with Australian intelligence passed to America about a drunk George Papadopoulos spilling the beans about the whole thing. As usual we are faced with the most heinous crimes committed by the most inept bunch of bumbling idiots this side of a Coen brothers movie.
It’s pretty clear that a bunch of House members are also worried about being called co-conspirators, but Mueller’s opinion on the matter has weight. I think we are beginning to see some of these people making that key decision to save themselves. And once that starts happening, it generally doesn’t stop.
The piece that keeps sticking out to me is the declassifying. We’ve been hearing for however many years that mishandling classified information is the Worst Thing Ever, and barely over a year into the Trump Administration we’re declassifying stuff for flagrantly partisan reasons. Really, just, high class there.
So, Christo remarked that it seems like some members of the House are seeing the writing on the wall, talking to lawyers, and starting to protect themselves instead of try to ride the administration out. Is that the rest of the crew’s read on the impact of the memo so far? What kind of waves does this seem to be making?
It’s yet another attack on an institution, the FBI, that is traditionally upheld by the GOP and is filled to the brim by Republicans themselves. It feels like it is one step away from Trump openly attacking the beloved military and local firefighters and police. If the leader of your party is belittling core components of your base as an elected member of Congress, you can’t hold fast against the population. As I see it, Trump rode the wave that the Tea Party started, but has isolated himself from the rest of the GOP so much that they are bound to not only have a strong Democratic opposition in the upcoming elections but also challenges from both the ultra crazy Tea Party wing and the moderate side. So if you you are a Congressperson on either side of the GOP, you have to calculate which way to lean. And some of them cannot go any further whichever way it is for them personally or electorally in their district.
Speaking of the FBI being a traditionally Republican-filled and -beloved institution, the GOP are bending so far up their own asses to undermine this investigation that they’ve seized on text messages by Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who had an affair with a Justice Department lawyer; purportedly their genitalia began a “secret society” in the “deep state” to “elect Trump” but then, oops, turns out Strzok authored the infamous Comey letter that threw the election to Trump. The audacity of Republicans to argue that Republican appointed officials, Republican agents, and the people who made Trump president are all Democrat Fifth Columnists cooking up a scheme to destroy the president (by, I dunno, tricking him into admitting guilt publicly for many crimes over and over again?) is simply breathtaking. And upsetting. And terrifying. Not only are these assholes driving us over the cliff, they want to tell us it’s the cliff’s fault.
I have a feeling that the FBI isn’t going to be as gungho Republican as they used to be. They are serious minded careerists who take their oath of office seriously. This shit is probably enraging to them, and that’s before you get to the treatment of Mueller, Comey, and now Wray.
We’re bumping up against the end of the line here, everyone; final thoughts on the memo?
Nothing much more to say about it, since it was short, low on information we didn’t already know, and clearly incomplete. I look forward to the minority rebuttal, if it ever comes to light.
Trump and his ilk are going to endlessly repeat themselves about the slam dunkness of this memo. I think that the media aren’t picking it up, so that battle will be fun to watch. If Trump actually tries to start firing people, then much starker choices are going to have to be made.
The take I’ve been getting from observing the less-than-engaged side of my social circle has very little “the investigation is illegitimate!” and a great deal of “oh my God, can we just stop the bullshit until they finish?” Nobody, even the conservative sorts, seem to be all that enthused by the memo. So if that little slice of the world is any indication, it’s not grabbing much traction.
I’ve made it a habit in recent weeks to explain to friends and family what’s up with this “memo” thing all the Russian bots are talking about, and it’s a ridiculously complicated story, starting with Devin Nunes’ shenanigans last year to try to cover up what is probably his complicity in at least the Flynn side of things (since he was on the administration transition team), bringing in the “secret society,” how the FISA court works, the early investigations into Carter Page, etc, etc… Which tells me that, even if some of the mainstream media haven’t been denouncing the memo loudly enough, I don’t think it’ll ultimately have much impact on the American people’s perception of the Mueller investigation, which they are broadly in favor of and broadly trust (just as the FBI is one of our most trusted institutions). In other words, this is some weak tea, and in a way it’s remarkable that some innocuous text messages and a few incoherent lies about the dossier are all the GOP has to throw at this investigation. I don’t think the memo will end up changing anyone’s minds… But it’s also true that the undermining efforts may have a cumulative effect, and we won’t know their true impact until Mueller finally takes his shot.
And we’ll have to leave it at that, hoping that Robert Mueller is the sort to not throw away his shot. Thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation!