Politics & Policy

A Few Thoughts on #ReleaseTheMemo

Let me say upfront that I’m inclined to think this whole thing has been more of a cynical P.R. stunt — and an impressive one at that — than a serious exercise on the merits. That is not to say that there aren’t real abuses alluded to in the Nunes memo (by every account, the memo doesn’t actually document anything; it just summarizes things, from a highly subjective vantage point) — I just think that ultimately the steak won’t live up to the sizzle. If that turns out to be the case, it may not matter how effective the hype was at the beginning. You can have a great series of trailers building up excitement for a movie, but if the movie truly stinks, few will remember the pre-release marketing, and some will even resent it.

Here’s one example of what I mean. Sebastian Gorka says that the abuses recounted in the memo are — wait for it — 100 times greater than the abuses by Britain that warranted the American Revolution. Not “almost as bad.” Not even “as bad,” but 10,000 percent as bad. Even accounting for hyperbole, that is at least 9,999 percent stupid — particularly when you realize Gorka hasn’t read the memo. My own suspicion is that some of the abuses alleged in the memo will be serious but will nonetheless fall short of warranting armed insurrection against a tyrannical government by something close to a gazillion miles.

Oh, and then there’s Carter Page. As I understand it, one of the central allegations of the memo is that the Obama administration used the Steele dossier to get a warrant from a FISA court to spy on Carter Page. I think the effort to turn the Steele dossier into a piece of concentrated evil the likes of which blew up Kevin’s parents in Time Bandits to be wildly overdone. But let’s assume, again for argument’s sake, that the Obama administration knew the dossier was garbage and used it anyway to get a warrant. Let’s also assume they had no other evidence to bring to the court. That would be very bad indeed.

But here’s the thing: That scenario is very unlikely. First of all, Page was under FISA surveillance since 2014, long before Donald Trump announced his candidacy. When asked by Congress to testify under oath, Page invoked the Fifth Amendment. The White House has been trying to insist for nearly a year that Page was a nobody and that he doesn’t matter.

And yet . . . the GOP wants to make Carter Page a martyr? Leave aside the fact that, other than eunuchs who carry their manhood in a convenient “stomping sack,” few people have shown greater ease at stepping on their own Johnsons than Carter Page. Elevating his stature strikes me as a terrible idea for the White House.

Finally, a word about the process and the press. I find the widespread media freakout about Congress going through the proper procedures to declassify and release a document rather bizarre.

Let’s imagine for argument’s sake that the New York Times or the Washington Post had gotten their hands on the Nunes memo. Is there any doubt that they would report on its contents? Would Buzzfeed hesitate to publish a PDF of the whole thing? That’s instantaneous declassification with pretty much no oversight. I get being offended by so much of the gaslighting and hysteria going on. But the constant harping from MSNBC and elsewhere on the “recklessness” of this is a bit hard to take. There’s an interesting debate to be had on the extent to which the press has a right to publish classified information. There really is no debate on whether Congress and the executive branch have the authority to do this. They can.

It seems like the press thinks declassifying sensitive information to fuel a partisan narrative is their job and no one else’s.

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