Prologue: Today is Sunday, February 4 when the Super Bowl is the number one story on cable television. President Trump will be in Florida at Mar-a-Lago glued to his TV screen along with untold millions of American sports fans. We will all have a respite from the explosive news story of the past two weeks –let’s call it Memo Madness. Here’s a brief summary of the highlights.
Story: Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee , announced that he would release a critical memo written by his aides based on classified F.I.S.A. (Federal Information Surveillance Act) about the activity of Carter Page, a Trump Foreign Policy expert. Nunes had been recused as chairman after the “Midnight Run” episode several months earlier when he ran to the White House to alert Trump of possible damaging intelligence information. However, Nunes with the approval of Speaker Paul Ryan, returned to lead the Intelligence Committee and issue subpoenas. When he announced the imminent release of the F.I.S.A. classified memo, it exploded on Fox News as proof that the F.B.I. investigation by Counsel Robert Mueller was corrupt and should be rejected as proof that it was indeed the “witch hunt” Trump continues to call it. Republican supporters immediately took up the drumbeat, appearing on TV news coverage with their slogan, “Release the Memo!” Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee wrote a separate Memo refuting the claims in the original with facts, but were voted down in a party line vote from having their memo released. Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member, appeared on Cable News to present these events to the public.
The president had told Lester Holt on TV –and the world– that he had fired F.B.I. Director James Comey over “the Russia thing” . It was the start of months of his tweets , attacking members of the Justice Department he believed should have “protected him” from unfair accusations. He had asked Comey for “loyalty to him” and Comey’s refusal led directly to being fired. Trump next turned on Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he recused himself from the Russia Investigation. He blamed Sessions for not telling him that he would do that in advance, tweeting, “ I wouldn’t have appointed him if I knew he would do that.” When Rod Rosenstein was chosen as Deputy Attorney General of the Justice Department, he appointed Robert Mueller to lead the Russia investigation. In effect, he became the next target for Trump’s displeasure and constant disparagement.
Throughout the past months, the Russia investigation continued with interviews of multiple government officials including members of the White House Administration. Certain events became central, including the meeting at Trump Tower during June, 2016 when Donald Trump Jr. , Jared Kushner and other administration personnel met with Russian officials including a woman well known as a leading spy . E-mails surfaced between Trump Jr. and the Russians promising “dirt on Hillary Clinton”. Trump Jr,’s response, “ I love it!” is on record. It also became known that Donald Trump when flying back from Europe knew of the meeting and did not want any connection with discussion of “removing sanctions” . He wrote an alternate version of the meeting topic as “adoption of Russian orphans” while on the plane. This account became public knowledge. Most recently, Mueller has been zeroing in on members of the White House staff and has indicated he planned to interview the president. Trump responded positively, with the caveat that his lawyers would need to agree.
During the past months, both houses of Congress passed additional sanctions against Russia to punish their proven interference in the 2016 election. The combined votes in the House and Senate were only five short of unanimous. Trump signed grudgingly but has failed to implement the sanctions. He continues to doubt the Intelligence findings, and praises Putin whenever possible. He also shows no interest in preparing to stop interference by Russia in the coming midterm elections which Democratic Congressional members call for.
The White House received a copy of the memo on Monday night, January 29. That afternoon, Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. Director and Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General had gone to the White House, hoping to get their cooperation in delaying the vote to send the memo to the President. They spoke with Chief of Staff John Kelly but were not successful. Trump had five days to decide whether to declassify top secret information about the F.I.S.A. process included in the memo. Tuesday , as he left the State of the Union meeting, he answered questions about releasing the memo with “l00 percent release.”
The three and one half page memo was released to Fox News on Friday night with much fanfare from Sean Hannity who hailed it as proving the “corrupt investigation of the president”. In reality, it contained almost no information connected to Robert Mueller’s investigation. Carter Page had been under government surveillance for three years before he joined Trump’s team. Saturday’s cable news shows focused on copies of the memo dissected by former Intelligence officials , political analysts and prosecuting attorneys. The overall conclusion of most who had read the entire memo was that it was a “Dud”. Nunes had never read the “top secret” classified F.I.S.A. information himself.
Saturday, Februrary 3, The New York Times published the entire Nunes Memo with annotations on the side that gave a factual critique of each major statement. Although the release of the Democratic memo from the Intelligence committee had not been voted out, another rebuttal memo was released by Jerry Nadler, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat of New York. It was a ten page detailed legal analysis of the Nunes memo. The battle was indeed joined.
Epilogue: The free press in this country serves as a major institutional check on the three branches of our federal government; the legislative Congress, the executive President and the judiciary Courts. If Trump were more familiar with the Constitution, he would know that Article I was most important to the framers who had rebelled against the autocratic rule of England’s King. It is a much longer article of responsibilities and powers than Article II , the executive and Artlcle III, the Judiciary. Khizr Khan was right on target when he offered Trump his copy of The Constitution during his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2016.
……………………………………………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson
*”An American Family” A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan . Highly recommended reading. Available on Amazon. Hard cover.