Yesterday afternoon, Axios ran an item, quoting sources inside the Trump administration, saying there were some fears inside the White House about the Republicans’ Nunes memo. It wasn’t that Trump World was afraid of national security consequences, or mass resignations, but rather, it started to dawn on the White House that the hyped memo might be a “dud.”
Administration officials, the report said, “expect it will be underwhelming and not the ‘slam dunk’ document it’s been hyped up to be.”
Now that the memo is available, we know those concerns were overly generous – because it’s actually worse than meaningless.
1. The memo debunks some of the central tenets of the broader Republican argument. For months, Donald Trump and his cohorts have pushed the line that the Steele dossier was the match that lit the fuse on the Russia investigation. We’ve known for a while that this argument is wrong, but what we didn’t know is that the Nunes memo would side with the reality-based community and reject the Trump World line, conceding that it was Papadopoulos, not the dossier, that started the federal probe.
2. The memo makes pointless arguments for no reason. Apparently, Christopher Steele, like most of the American electorate, did not want Trump to become president. What’s more, Steele’s dossier, as we’ve known for quite a while, was funded in part by Democrats. Observations like these may excite confused partisans, but they have no legal, procedural, or political significance, and they do nothing to advance the baseless assertion that there were abuses among federal law enforcement officials.
3. The memo makes apparent factual errors. The document’s Republican authors make the case that the surveillance of Carter Page wouldn’t have occurred without the Steele dossier, and cite former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. That’s apparently not what McCabe said. Worse, it’s not the only mistake.
4. Trump, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, and their cohorts took an outrageous step in exchange for nothing. The White House is at odds with the FBI. Congress is at odds with federal law enforcement. The House Intelligence Committee is divided against itself. As former FBI Director James Comey noted this afternoon, Republicans are responsible for creating this dangerous mess, and they have nothing to show for their efforts except a laughable document.
5. The memo leaves Republicans without rhetorical ammunition. This was their shot. This was Trump sycophants’ opportunity to make their case – in writing, with classified information – with the media spotlight and the public’s attention. This was their chance to show that there were actual abuses and that the investigation into the president and his political operation lack justification. Instead, they fired blanks.
Al Capone’s vault had nothing in it, and as a consequence, proponents of the related conspiracy theories are actually worse off than they were before. The document’s authors set out to prove a conspiracy and failed spectacularly in their task.
Postscript: It was just two weeks ago that one GOP lawmaker said the memo exposed abuses “worse than Watergate.” That seemed foolish at the time, but it’s kind of hilarious now.