ReleaseTheMemo finally happened.
But despite all the hype, Washington’s pretty much exactly where it was 24 hours ago: locked in bitterly partisan trench warfare. If anything, the release of the memo Friday, over protests from the FBI and the Department of Justice, just seemed to turn up the political animus to 11 and harden everyone’s pre-existing position.
Democrats see a president attempting to obstruct an investigation. Some Republicans including the president are even more convinced of a deep state conspiracy undermining the Trump administration. Other Republicans are embarrassed by their colleagues and wish everyone would just focus on selling tax reform. And the intelligence community is frustrated at being disparaged and made into a scapegoat by the president they serve.
The only clear change is that everyone is just a little angrier than before.
Like Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, for instance. Never afraid to issue an extreme statement, he accused James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, and Rod Rosenstein of “treason,” expanding on Trump’s tweet from Friday morning claiming that “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.”
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida seemingly found every TV camera available to claim that the entire Trump-Russia narrative had been undone. And Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who wrote the memo, said “the committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.”
Other Trump allies, like Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, nodded in agreement, calling the FBI and the Justice Department’s conduct “completely unacceptable.”
But not all Republicans shared their vindication. House Speaker Paul Ryan has been making a habit of saying something completely different from the president while taking pains not to criticise him by name. The speaker told reporters Friday that it was "critical" that the memo not be used "to impugn the integrity of the justice system and FBI, which continue to serve the American people with honor."
He added that he thought the memo raised “legitimate” concerns about violating Page’s civil rights, but stopped at that.
Few Republicans in the Senate rose up to defend their colleagues in the lower chamber. Frequent Trump critic Sen. John McCain of Arizona went as far to say that memo controversy had only aided American enemies. "Our nation’s elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows," he said in a statement. "If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”
And those are just some of the disagreements among Republicans.
Democrats attacked House Republicans for sowing doubt in the justice system over a memo they considered “juvenile” and a “laughable hack job,” as Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois and Sen. Ron Wyden put it, respectively.
All of this anger and mistrust comes with another possible government shutdown around the corner and while Congress is in the midst of tense negotiations over the fate of the million-plus undocumented immigrants brought here as children.The memo controversy may not sink those negotiations, but it certainly won’t help.
The memo is a mere 3-and-a-half page document, which argues that the intelligence community did not fully disclose to the FISA court that some of the evidence against Page had been collected by a former intelligence operative being paid by the DNC and Hillary Clinton.
But most intel experts shrugged at its revelations, saying there was no smoking gun. Former FBI Director James Comey took to Twitter to criticize all the pain caused by a memo that he said was ultimately unconvincing.
And Trump’s appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray sent an email to all bureau employees Friday evening telling them, “I stand with you.” He continued with a rebuke of partisan attackers, saying “talking is cheap; the work you do is what will endure.”
Democrats, for their part, reacted with their familiar mix of outrage at the turn of events and resignation at their inability to do much to prevent them.
Ten of the leading Democrats in Washington then banded together to write a letter sternly warning that Trump better not use the memo to justify firing people involved with the Russia investigation, such as special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“We write to inform you that we would consider such an unwarranted action as an attempt to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation,” they wrote.
But it’s not clear what effect that will have on Trump.
Asked if he still has confidence in Rosenstein and if the memo would make it more likely for him to fire the deputy attorney general, Trump responded: “You figure that one out.”
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, holds a meeting at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's National Targeting Centre in Sterling, Virginia, U.S. February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst