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The wrong White House to sing the virtues of 'transparency'

When it comes to the "Nunes memo," Team Trump keeps talking about "transparency," but it doesn't mean what they think it means.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has reportedly packaged together some partisan talking points intended to provide Donald Trump cover in the Russia scandal. The idea, as we discussed earlier, is to shift attention away from the White House by pointing the finger at the Justice Department, the FBI, Fusion GPS, and intelligence professionals.

The Justice Department does not seem impressed, describing the release of a memo featuring classified information as "extraordinarily reckless." Donald Trump and his team, however, are siding with the president's GOP allies in Congress, not the Justice Department.

On CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, Marc Short, the White House's legislative affair director, characterized Team Trump's position this way:

"Well, we haven't, obviously, read the memo. It's classified, so it's hard for me to speculate what's in the memo. I do think that we typically prefer transparency and so if there are concerns that I think would be helpful for Americans to know about it we would be open for that being released."

At a press briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used similar phrasing when asked about Nunes' document and its possible release. "We certainly support full transparency," the president's spokesperson argued, adding, "And as I said yesterday, and we've said many times before on a number of different issues, we certainly support that transparency.... [W]e support full transparency."

First, it's worth pausing to appreciate the irony of the circumstances. Donald Trump won't release his tax returns. Trump's White House won't release its visitor logs. Trump's inaugural committee won't disclose its controversial finances. Trump's Florida resort has gone to court to keep its customer list secret. Trump's White House even tries to obscure his golfing habits.

For Trump World to suggest it "prefers transparency" is, if we're being charitable, amusing.

Second and more importantly, to support the release of the so-called "Nunes memo" isn't to support transparency. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained the other day, it's almost certainly the opposite.

We don't know what the Nunes memo will say. But in a sense, it may end up constituting the opposite of true transparency -- a selective release of cherry-picked info that will give Republicans ammunition to shield Trump from accountability, secure in the knowledge that the full set of facts allowing us to gauge the memo's accuracy will not be released.

Nevertheless, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee could vote as early as this afternoon to support the document's release.

And while I won't claim any expertise in this process, CNN reports, "Under an obscure committee rule to make the classified memo public, which has never been invoked in the panel's 40-plus-year history, the President would have five days following a vote to decide whether to allow the public release to move forward or object to it."

Trump, by all accounts, sees political value in the partisan document, and House GOP leaders are reportedly deferring to Nunes and Republicans on the Intelligence Committee. Watch this space.