The Trump administration approved the release of a much-ballyhooed memo Friday from the House Intelligence Committee, which outlines allegations that federal agencies misused their power to spy on the Trump campaign.
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes writes in the memo that the FBI and Department of Justice under the Obama administration used the Trump dossier in applications to the FISA court for a warrant to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and did not include important information about the political origins of the dossier. The memo is here.
The memo was characterized as a partisan document lacking context before it ever came to light. Media coverage was vociferous in outlining potential problems with the document. I’ve rarely seen so many reporters agitate so passionately to keep secret government info secret before. Their concerns are fair, except they seem to vanish when it comes to reporting on the Russia investigation that is based on selective (and likely politically motivated) leaks.
The criticisms were:
1. The memo is selective, created from cherry-picked intelligence information, some of which may be redacted for security purposes and some of which may be hidden for political purposes.
2. The memo doesn’t give us the full context of the controversy. Because it is crafted of only parts of the intelligence involved in this story, its release doesn’t truly illuminate to the public what’s going on.
3. The motivations of those releasing the selective information without full context are likely partisan and political, which undermines the memo’s credibility.
4. The memo may be based on some intelligence documents the authors of the memo haven’t inspected.
Fine, agreed. Those are all things we should take into consideration in evaluating this memo. My question: How does that make the memo any different from the national reporting we’ve seen on the Russia investigation (or the Mueller investigation or the Hillary investigation or any other government operation that’s supposed to be secret) for the last year?
That reporting has been based on leaks, many of them anonymous, from the intelligence community and the House Intelligence Committee.
1. The leaks are selective, cherry-picked from intelligence information, some of which is redacted for security purposes and some of which is hidden for political purposes.
2. The reporting on said leaks doesn’t give us the full context of the investigation. Because the narrative is crafted of only parts of the intelligence involved in this story, it often doesn’t truly illuminate to the public what’s going on.
3. The motivations of those leaking the selective information without full context are likely partisan and political, which undermines the credibility of the reporting.
4. And, reporting has several times been based on documents no member of the media has ever seen. The Comey memos are the best example of this. They’ve been front-page Gospel truth for a year despite the fact no one has ever seen them.
Almost every single news story on secret government investigations and machinations is based on a selectively leaked bit of information that doesn’t give full context and may have suspect motivations. That doesn’t mean we disregard every one of those reports. What we should do is evaluate them for credibility and weight them accordingly.
The memo release process, based on procedures and processes meant to allow for oversight and protect national security, is a public and relatively transparent one that effectively puts the American public in the position of a political reporter. A reporter knows who his sources are and can evaluate their credibility accordingly. On the Russia investigation, those assessments have routinely been flawed, with leaks from the investigation often proven wrong by reality within several news cycles.
In the case of the memo, the American public knows exactly who is releasing it and can evaluate their motivations accordingly. The information has been through several layers of checks to prevent damage to national security. Unlike the politically motivated and frequent leaking likely coming from Nunes’ Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, this memo has Nunes’ name all over it.
We’ve been reading selective intelligence, incomplete context, and unclear motivations for a year on the Russia investigation, trying our best to comprehend the shape of the whole investigation from bits and pieces. We’ve been trying for a year to separate correct from wrong and responsible from irresponsible, and there has been plenty of wrong and irresponsible reporting. This memo offers additional context, even if it’s as selective, incomplete, and politically motivated as its harshest critics suggest.