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Memo proves how far GOP has plunged into madness

Eugene Robinson on

WASHINGTON -- For the sake of argument, let's take President Trump and his Fox News cheerleaders at their word that they really believe that the memo Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., released Friday reveals a serious assault on our freedoms by the FBI and the Justice Department.

Nah. Just kidding.

It's simply not possible, on any level, to take seriously the histrionics from Trump and his true-believer allies over the Nunes memo -- except as evidence of how far the GOP has plunged into cynicism and madness.

A bunch of law-and-order, war-on-terrorism, lock-'em-up Republicans suddenly sound like spokesmen for the American Civil Liberties Union, so grave is their concern that our government might in any way trespass upon sacred due process. Imagine how such guardians of the Constitution would protest if, say, that self-same government were to hold suspects in detention for a decade or more without charges or trials. Wait, my bad: I seem to recall Republicans applauding with gusto when Trump, in his State of the Union address, announced that the prison at Guantanamo Bay will remain open.

Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, packed so much half-truth and distortion into four short pages that it's hard to know where to begin. His hope must have been that everyone would get lost in thick weeds of arcane detail, losing sight of the big picture. Which is not a picture at all.

The point of the memo is to suggest that in October 2016, the FBI and Justice Department -- under Barack Obama -- improperly obtained a secret warrant to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. We are supposed to believe the warrant was based on information in the "discredited" Christopher Steele dossier about Trump's connections with Russia. We are also given to understand that pertinent information was improperly withheld from the judge: the fact that Steele's firm was initially hired by Democrats seeking dirt on Trump. Nunes strongly implies, but doesn't quite say, that without the dossier, which was misrepresented by prosecutors, there would be no Russia investigation.

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Ta-da! "This memo totally vindicates 'Trump' in probe," the president desperately claimed in a tweet.

Stop laughing, readers.

The problem with Trump's self-exoneration, of course, is that everything the memo tries to make us believe is false. The dossier was not the only information the court relied on to approve the warrant. Steele is a respected former British intelligence agent, and some of the dossier's findings, though by no means all, appear to be accurate. The judge wasn't told that the dossier was funded by the Democrats, merely a partisan "political entity," but the materials provided by the FBI made it obvious it was an entity opposed to Trump. The memo itself acknowledges -- quietly -- that the whole probe began with George Papadopoulos, another campaign adviser, months before Page even came into the picture.

Break this gently to Sean Hannity, who might blow his last remaining gasket: Even if the dossier had never been written, Trump and his campaign would still be under investigation.

...continued

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