Our republic is in uncharted territory. Last Friday, the GOP majority on the House Intelligence Committee, with the approval of the White House, released a memo based on classified information.
Tim Weiner, former national security correspondent for the New York Times called the memo “a weapon of political warfare,” and a “cruel cudgel created to attack everyone who’s been in charge of the federal investigation of Team Trump.” The release of such a memo is unprecedented and unwarranted, and it shamelessly undermines federal law enforcement.
Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee strongly objected to the memo’s release, calling it inaccurate and misleading. The FBI concurred, publicly stating its “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
That their memo is, at best, a half-truth seems of little concern to House Republicans. But, as Mark Twain rightly observed, “A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.”
There is a reason that witnesses are required to tell not just the truth, but the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. It is the same reason that judges instruct jurors to refrain from forming an opinion on the merits of a case until the ENTIRE case has been submitted for determination. Incomplete testimony and a partially presented case are unlikely to reveal the truth.
And just as jurors are also told that arguments and statements by lawyers are not evidence, the public should know that the GOP memo is not evidence. It is nothing more than a partisan argument, a set of bald, conclusory and very much disputed assertions.
The Republicans insist that their memo has been thoroughly vetted, but that claim is patently false. The memo was produced only two weeks ago and the committee has conducted no depositions or interviews nor has it held any hearings. Incredibly, no member of the committee, including Chairman Devin Nunes, has read the source documents that served as the basis for the memo. Moreover, the FBI was given only a very limited opportunity to review the memo and, when the FBI asked to meet with the committee to explain its concerns, Committee Chair Devin Nunes summarily denied that request.
It is also significant that the committee never referred this matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) which is much better equipped than the House Committee to assess whether there had been any actual wrongdoing. The sole mission of the OIG is to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in Department of Justice programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in Department operations.
Unlike the House Intelligence Committee, the OIG has the staff – special agents, auditors, inspectors, attorneys and support staff – to thoroughly and objectively make findings of fact and conclusions of law. But the GOP, intent on shaping – and shading – the narrative, didn’t want to delay its rush to judgment.
Republicans argue that the public has the right to know the information contained in their memo and some even purport to support the release of the Democrats’ memo rebutting their own. However, they would delay the release of the Democratic memo until theirs has been in circulation for some time. The Democrats, understandably, have a problem with this approach knowing full well that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots.”
Finally, the president – who has told friends how delighted he is that the memo might undermine the special counsel investigation – is unlikely to approve the release of the Democratic memo. That would leave us with public access to only one version – the Republican version – of the truth, and that is very much contested.
Committee Chairman Nunes was discredited some time ago when he made a big production of delivering certain documents to the White House, documents which he received from the White House in the first instance. After this public charade came to light, Nunes ostensibly recused himself from the House investigation.
But now that Nunes has released the GOP memo his recusal seems illusory and transitory. It would appear that Nunes and the other GOP members are not exercising an oversight role so much as acting as defensive linemen for the president.
As you consider the merits of the GOP memo, remember the age-old adage: “Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.”