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Why the GOP's failure over the Comey memos seems so familiar

If the Republicans' failure over the Comey memos seems familiar, it's because they stuck to the script of the Nunes memo - and produced the same results.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

House Republicans fought for months to obtain memos then-FBI Director James Comey wrote about his interactions with Donald Trump. The Justice Department resisted for obvious reasons: the memos are evidence in an ongoing federal investigation, and law enforcement officials aren't in the habit of handing over such evidence to outside parties, especially not to satisfy a partisan political agenda.

But GOP lawmakers, desperate to help Trump, pressed on. After making all kinds of heated threats, Republicans eventually obtained the documents, promptly leaked them, and proceeded to pat themselves on the back.

House Republicans have declared that the James Comey memos they released Thursday disprove that President Trump obstructed justice in his interactions with the former FBI director. And Trump spiked the football, too....But if anything, the memos only confirm Comey's version of events. And the new details only raise more questions about the infamous Steele dossier and Michael Flynn.... You have a president who can't stop talking about the dossier. And you have a White House that's suspicious about Flynn -- before he ultimately resigned. Those revelations don't help the president; they hurt him.

Or as NBC News' Chuck Todd put it this morning, "What exactly were House Republicans hoping to accomplish by demanding the full release of these memos? Nothing I've read seems to change Comey's story and if anything, these memos give more, not less, credence to the dossier."

Quite right. Republicans fought tooth and nail, ignoring every warning, to get their hands on these documents. They then shared them with the world, only to find that they haven't helped their president or their party in any meaningful way. In fact, the GOP architects of this misguided plan -- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) -- appear worse off than they were before.

All of which leads to two points.

First, if you're feeling déjà vu right about now, you're not alone -- because this feels very much like the debacle surrounding the so-called "Nunes memo" all over again. In that case, House Republicans fought with the Justice Department, ignored every warning, and released sensitive information to the public in the hopes of undermining the investigation into the Russia scandal. Trump, in a perpetual state of confusion, immediately claimed vindication.

In reality, of course, the gambit failed spectacularly. Every key argument the president and his allies hoped to advance fell apart, and after weeks of over-the-top hype, Republicans actually found themselves worse off than they were before the sensitive materials were released to the public.

Eleven weeks later, this same dynamic is unfolding, with Republicans celebrating the release of materials that help their rivals and raise awkward questions for their allies. To this extent, the Comey memos are effectively the Nunes memo's sequel: an embarrassing dud that GOP partisans failed to think through.

Which leads to other point: why didn't Republicans think this through? We had some basic ideas about what was in the Comey memos based on media reports and his congressional testimony, and none of what he had to say cast Trump in a flattering light. So why would the president's GOP allies go so far out of their way to focus attention on news that undermines their agenda?

Part of me thought it was possible that the Republican lawmakers simply got stuck: they asked for the Comey materials months ago, and if they backed down in the face of Justice Department resistance, they'd look weak. Maybe they stuck with it to save face and inadvertently hurt their cause in the process?

And while I suppose that's still possible, Slate's Jeremy Stahl has a better explanation: House Republicans hoped the memos "would prove Comey had illegally leaked classified information and lied about it. It seems as though they were basing this entirely on a bit of contradictory -- and likely inaccurate -- Fox News reporting. And it seems that this contradictory, likely inaccurate reporting was done by Fox News to help validate this Donald Trump tweet, which was sent two days after Comey's Senate testimony."

Republicans have had more than their share of fiascoes over the last year, but this one ranks pretty high.