Journalists and commentators are working to discredit Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., for his lead role in finding apparent conflicts of interest and unprofessional conduct in the Justice Department, though much of that criticism has come without any specific examples of wrongdoing by Nunes.Nunes,...
Journalists and commentators are working to discredit Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., for his lead role in finding apparent conflicts of interest and unprofessional conduct in the Justice Department, though much of that criticism has come without any specific examples of wrongdoing by Nunes.
Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released the long-awaited, Republican-backed memo that claims the FBI relied on the now-famous anti-Trump “dossier,” authored by Trump critic and former British spy Christopher Steele, to justify further spying on Trump associate Carter Page ahead of the 2016 election. The dossier was funded in part by Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign, raising questions about whether it was appropriate to use a partisan document as justification to spy on a political opponent.
In the lead-up to and following the memo’s release, prominent voices in the media attacked Nunes as a shill for the White House peddling a memo filled with inaccurate information.
Liberal New York Times columnist Charles Blow on Tuesday said that the memo was a “dud” and described Nunes as a “near-treasonous water boy.”
E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post called the memo “a blatant McCarthyite hit piece that breaks little new ground” and referred to Nunes as a “propagandist” for Trump.
But while they dismissed Nunes as a pro-Trump partisan, they didn’t identify any specific inaccuracy in the memo.
The four-page document charged that the FBI did rely on the Steele dossier to seek approval from the FISA court to surveil Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser. And it alleged that the partisan nature of the dossier, which has remained largely unsubstantiated, was not disclosed to the court.
In a point that favored Democrats, the memo also acknowledged that the dossier was not the basis for the ongoing Russia probe, and said instead that the investigation began with George Papadopoulos in July 2016. U.S. intelligence reportedly began monitoring Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign associate, for having been in contact with Russian officials.
The media liked that part of it and focused on it. But few had an explanation or argument for the memo’s findings on the Page FISA warrant, and instead offered vague dismissals.
“The tantalizing possibility that this memo would contain actual, accurate damning evidence that the investigation was corrupt just vanished,” Blow wrote. “The contents of that memo are as thin as Trump’s coif.”
Dionne didn’t dispute the finding related to Page, but tried to downplay it.
“Actually, Page is a side player in the story, and his engagement with Russian spies was on the radar of intelligence agencies long before Steele prepared his now-famous dossier,” he wrote.
While Trump has said the memo’s release “totally vindicates” him in the collusion allegations, Democrats on the committee have accused the Nunes memo of lacking in context or only featuring cherry-picked data to support a narrative of anti-Trump bias in the Justice Department. They wrote their own memo in response, and it is in the process of being made public, subject to White House approval.
The press picked up on that message, and went further by disparaging Nunes. Last Wednesday, NBC News contributor Elise Jordan questioned why congressional Republicans would trust “a former dairy farmer” to investigate the Justice Department, a reference to his career before he was elected to Congress.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said Nunes was “nothing but a courier for Donald Trump.”
The previous day, John Heilemann, an analyst for MSNBC, asked Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., whether it’s possible “that the Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee has been compromised by the Russians?”
“I hope that’s not the case and I certainly have no information to suggest that it is,” replied Murphy.
But a little later, Heilemann asked the same question of Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
“Congressman Nunes, your chairman — it is suggested by, not by me but by people who follow these matters closely, could he possibly be someone who’s been compromised by the Russians?” he said. “Is that something you consider a possibility?”
Swalwell evaded the question and only offered that Nunes had been “compromised by the White House.”
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