This post has been updated.
By Jackson Richman
With the White House just announcing that President Donald Trump will not block the memo produced by the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee to the public, it is time for a memo about the memos from the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-AZ), and its ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
The four-page classified document was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, and written by committee Republicans. According to sources familiar with it, the memo accuses the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department of misleading a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge last March as they sought to extend an eavesdropping warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, an oil industry consultant with numerous contacts in Russia. It also accuses the law enforcement agencies of failing to tell the judge that the warrant request was based on a dossier of alleged Trump-Russia contacts compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele in work partly financed by the Democratic National Committee.
Steele’s dossier contains a number of inflammatory and salacious allegations about Trump and his alleged connections to Russia. Trump has slammed the dossier as “bogus” and denies his campaign colluded with Russia. Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have focused heavily on the dossier and its DNC ties, as well as U.S. surveillance of Trump associates while Democrat Barack Obama was still president, arguing that Democrats instead should be the focus of federal and congressional investigations.
Despite the political sensationalism behind the memo saga, it is important to remember that American government consists of a separation of powers which must keep one another in check. The great philosopher Montesquieu wrote in The Spirit of the Laws, “For we can not abuse power, must, by the arrangement of things, power checks power.” Speaking of sensationalism, from Nunes and Schiff to the press, the Nunes memo’s findings underscore the need for Congress to oversee the FBI and DOJ to ensure they do not abuse their authority. James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”
Additionally, there is the accusation that Nunes altered the memo’s content. However, it apparently is a minor change. According to CNN, “A spokesman for Nunes responded to Schiff’s letter by calling it an ‘increasingly strange attempt to thwart publication of the memo,’ saying changes were made that were ‘minor edits to the memo, including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and by the Minority themselves‘” [bold emphasis mine].
According to University of Kansas political science professor Don Haider-Markel, the last time Congress faced something as dramatic as this memo episode was four years ago. “The recent debate over the Senate investigation and report in 2014 on CIA use of torture was similar,” he told The National Discourse. “In that case Democrats were fighting to release the report and Republicans were opposed.”
Overall, if the FBI and DOJ are worried about the memo’s content, then they should tell the American people their concerns. Despite the all-around flame throwing, accountability comes a price that is not cheap, but necessary. Federalist No. 51 also stated that “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
For better or worse, the devil is in the details. Release the memo.