I’d rather be writing about the Memo itself but we’re approaching noon ET and it still hasn’t been released — and there’s no word on when it will be. It’s like having to fill airtime for the Super Bowl pregame show except you don’t know when kickoff will be. We could be farting around with predictions about who’s going to “win” for the next eight hours.
If you believe WaPo, John Kelly doesn’t foresee the home team bringing home the trophy today.
The president did not actually see the memo — written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Nunes’s staff — until Wednesday afternoon, following the committee’s Monday vote to initiate its release, officials said. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly marched the document into the Oval Office so that he and Trump could briefly discuss it before the president’s meeting with regional reporters.
The president was then left alone to read the memo in its entirety.
A White House official said Kelly returned a few hours later and shared with the president his opinion: that releasing the memo would not risk national security but that the document was not as compelling as some of its advocates had promised Trump.
That’s the second time in 24 hours that a media outlet has relayed Team Trump’s supposedly dim view of the Memo, although this time Kelly is mentioned by name. It’s interesting that White House aides are busy trying to scrub their fingerprints off of it by whispering to the media about how underwhelmed they are while POTUS himself is busy building the pre-release hype:
The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2018
“You had Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party try to hide the fact that they gave money to GPS Fusion to create a Dossier which was used by their allies in the Obama Administration to convince a Court misleadingly, by all accounts, to spy on the Trump Team.” Tom Fitton, JW
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2018
The fear among natsec pros, supposedly, has been that the Memo might reveal intelligence sources and methods but as time has worn on that concern has seemed thinner. The FBI was allowed to review it before its release; Nunes reportedly made edits to address some of the Bureau’s concerns. The document is only four pages long, for cripes sake. How much could it reveal, realistically? What’s really bugging Chris Wray, Rod Rosenstein, and Dan Coats, all of whom appealed to Kelly not to publish it, is the precedent it’s going to set. Partisan takes on contentious intelligence emanating from congressional committees won’t seem as outre after this, especially with Democrats eager for revenge down the line. And future memos might not be as careful with sources and methods as this one appears to have been. This is Memo Bowl I, but there will be more.
The subplot is whether anyone’s getting fired or resigning in the aftermath. Chris Wray’s predicament is well known, but it’s really his decision. Trump’s not going to fire another FBI director, especially one who wasn’t part of the Bureau when the Russiagate probe was launched. Firing Rod Rosenstein, though? That seems to be where this is headed. More from WaPo:
The president said he thought the release of the memo would help build a public argument against Rosenstein’s handling of the case, according to people familiar with the discussions. Trump suggested to aides and confidants that the memo might give him the justification to fire Rosenstein — something about which Trump has privately mused — or make other changes at the Justice Department, which he had complained was not sufficiently loyal to him.
Trump cares about the Memo to the extent it’ll provide him with an excuse to can Rosenstein and have supervision of the Russiagate investigation pass to … Rachel Brand, I guess? Why he thinks she’d be any more of a loyal soldier than Rosenstein, I have no idea. But maybe this is less about strategy for him than pure score-settling. Rosenstein’s the guy who appointed Mueller after Comey was fired; Rosenstein’s the guy who reauthorized the surveillance of Carter Page that’s at the heart of the Memo. So now Rosenstein has to pay. Simple as that.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s Nunes’s nemesis on the Intel Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff. He makes a claim at one point, as you’ll see, that the Memo originally accused the FBI of having made “significant omissions” in presenting its case to the FISA Court for a warrant to surveil Page. Now, he says, the document has been changed to remove the word “significant” so that it refers only to “omissions.” Assuming that’s true — which is a big assumption in Schiff’s case — that might have been one concession by Trump and Nunes to Wray and the FBI, toning down the language a bit so that the Bureau’s alleged malfeasance seems less egregious. Although, if so, I don’t know what the point of the Memo is. If this is a blockbuster expose of corruption and politicization, the FBI’s misdeeds have to be “significant” by definition. We’ll see soon, hopefully, what language the Memo itself uses.