Donald Trump’s critics have moved beyond latter-day Cold Warrior mode into full blown McCarthyism. John Heilemann of MSNBC has taken to insinuating that Republican Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, might be a Russian plant. The congressman’s offense is producing and working to release a memo about the sources of the FBI’s surveillance of persons associated with the Trump campaign in 2016, which has made Nunes the most hated man in Washington for Democrats and the press.
The memo is portrayed as a blatant PR gimmick and a clear and present danger to America’s intelligence operations. But from what we know of Nunes and his colleagues, they have long been sincerely alarmed at what they’ve learned about how the FBI operated in 2016. The suspicions have been heightened by the bizarre stonewalling of the committee’s inquiry by a Republican-led Justice department (this background accounts for why the committee hasn’t worked closely with the DOJ on the memo).
As for endangering U.S. intelligence, the committee has scrupulously followed the process to declassify the document in such circumstances. Nunes or someone else could have simply leaked the document to a sympathetic reporter — this is how Washington usually works — but he has instead played by the rules. The White House is, per chief of staff John Kelly, currently scrubbing the document, and presumably anything that reveals sources and methods will be redacted.
We can’t know if the document is nearly as explosive as advertised until we see it. Perhaps the presuppositions of the committee Republicans have led them to an overly hostile interpretation of the material. (The FBI is already out with a statement saying that the memo leaves out important details.) But you don’t have to be Sean Hannity to be curious about the beginning of the investigation and its conduct, given the disturbing revelations of the last few months.
At the outset of all this, we favored a full investigation of the 2016 election controversies — from the Russian hacking to unmasking — to give the public as many facts as possible. Instead, the main investigation is taking place within the black box of a special-counsel probe. If nothing else, the Nunes memo will pull back the curtain on part of the story. The FBI and the Democrats can — and should — share their own versions. This is called public debate, and we assure the Red Hunters on the Left that this is not how the Kremlin conducts its affairs.