Trump Blocks Release Of Democratic Rebuttal To Nunes Memo

Last week, President Trump authorized the release of a memorandum prepared by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. This memo purported to summarize the content of an October 2016 application by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign associate Carter Page pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. At the time, this action was taken over strong objections from the intelligence community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which asserted that the memo would reveal information that would compromise national security by, among other things, providing information that could lead adversary intelligence agencies toward discovering closely guarded sources and methods used in American intelligence and counter-intelligence operations. Late yesterday, in what qualifies as a classic “Take Out The Trash Day” news dump, the White House announced that President Trump blocked the release of a rebuttal memo prepared by the Intelligence Committee’s ranking member Congressman Adam Schiff that is intended to rebut the claims in the Nunes memo, citing national security claims not dissimilar to those contained in the raised at the time he was considering releasing the original memo:

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday blocked the release of a classified Democratic memo rebutting Republican claims that top federal law enforcement officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide, a move that Democrats denounced as politically motivated hypocrisy.

Last week, the president moved quickly, over the objections of the Justice Department and the F.B.I., to declassify the contents of a rival Republican memo drafted by House Intelligence Committee staff members. He claimed, incorrectly, that the Republican memo had vindicated him in the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference.

But Donald F. McGahn II, the president’s lawyer, said in a letter to the committee on Friday night that the Democratic memo could not be released because it “contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.” He said the president would again consider making the memo public if the committee, which had approved its release on Monday, revised it to “mitigate the risks.”

Under the obscure rule invoked by the Intelligence Committee to initiate the document’s release, the committee could choose to make those changes, or could decide to seek a vote of the full House to try to override Mr. Trump’s decision.

Democrats expressed outrage at the president’s decision. “Republicans and Democrats on the Intelligence Committee voted UNANIMOUSLY to release this memo,” Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama, a Democratic member of the committee, wrote on Twitter. “@realDonaldTrump is not interested in transparency, he is interested in protecting himself and derailing the Russia investigation.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, had said earlier in the week that he feared that Mr. Trump would play politics with the dueling memos.

Mr. Schiff, who has traded bitter Twitter messages with the president after Mr. Trump called him one of “the biggest liars and leakers” in Washington, warned this week that Mr. Trump might call for “political edits” intended to erase embarrassing parts of the memo, not information related to national security.

In a statement on Friday night, Mr. Schiff said that Democrats had provided their memo to the F.B.I. and the Justice Department for vetting before it was approved for release by the committee. The Democratic memo was drawn from the same underlying documents as the Republican one.

“We will be reviewing the recommended redactions from D.O.J. and F.B.I., which these agencies shared with the White House,” Mr. Schiff said, “and look forward to conferring with the agencies to determine how we can properly inform the American people about the misleading attack on law enforcement by the G.O.P. and address any concerns over sources and methods.”

Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and the biggest champion of the Republican memo, said in a statement that he “had warned that the Democratic memo” revealed intelligence sources and methods, and that “it’s no surprise that these agencies recommended against publishing the memo without redactions.”

“Intelligence Committee Republicans encourage the minority to accept the D.O.J.’s recommendations and make the appropriate technical changes and redactions so that no sources and methods are disclosed and their memo can be declassified as soon as possible,” he said.

Mr. McGahn said Mr. Trump was “inclined to declassify” the Democratic memo, and encouraged the committee to make the changes that he said the Justice Department had identified as important for “national security and law enforcement interests.”

“The executive branch stands ready to review any subsequent draft of the Feb. 5 memorandum for declassification at the earliest opportunity,” Mr. McGahn wrote to the committee.

In his letter, Mr. McGahn said that Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, had identified portions of the memo for which they had “significant concerns.” Mr. McGahn referred the committee to a separate document — not released publicly — in which Mr. Wray and Mr. Rosenstein were said to provide details to the committee about those concerns.

(…)

Democrats say their 10-page memo corrects key mischaracterizations and crucial omissions in the Republican case. The Republicans’ three-and-a-half-page memo focused on the F.B.I.’s use of material from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to obtain a warrant to spy on Carter Page, the former Trump campaign official.

Mr. Steele was gathering information on possible connections between Russia and Trump associates, but the Republican memo says that the F.B.I. did not disclose to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that he was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and lawyers for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

People familiar with the Democratic memo said that it argues that the F.B.I. was more forthcoming with the surveillance court than Republicans had claimed. It says that while the F.B.I. did not name the Democratic National Committee or Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, the bureau did disclose to the court that the information it had received from Mr. Steele was politically motivated.

Mr. Nunes has since conceded that the political nature of the material was included in a footnote — a fact confirmed in a letter released this week by two senior Republican senators. But Mr. Nunes said the disclosure still fell short.

Democrats also say Republicans misrepresented the words of Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy director of the F.B.I., when they said he told the committee late last year that the agency would not have sought a wiretap of Mr. Page without Mr. Steele’s dossier of information.

“One week ago, the Department of Justice and F.B.I. implored the White House not to release a deeply flawed and inaccurate memo prepared by Chairman Devin Nunes,” Mr. Schiff said in his statement. “The White House ignored their concerns and approved the publication of the Republican memo with no redactions even though the action was described by the agencies as extraordinarily reckless and omitting material facts.”

President Trump responded to the pushback against his decision to block the Schiff memo this morning on Twitter:

It’s possible, of course, that the objections raised by the FBI regarding the Schiff memo are well-founded and that it does reveal things that need to be kept classified for national security reasons. It’s worth noting, for example, that Schiff’s memo reportedly runs to ten pages whereas the Nunes memo was only just over three pages long. This likely means that it is far more factually detailed than its companion memo is and that some of those facts may include things that need to be kept classified for valid national security reasons. If that’s the case, then it seems as though it would be relatively easy for Schiff to revise the memo in consultation with the Bureau to address those concerns and prepare a revised memo that avoids doing that so that the rebuttal can be released, It’s hard to judge that, though, because both the memo and report prepared by the Bureau regarding suggested changes to the Schiff memo remain classified for obvious reasons. Based on what we do know, though, it’s hard not to smell a partisan rat here, and to suspect that, at least on the part of the White House, there are ulterior motives for the decision to side with the Bureau and the intelligence committee as a reason to block the release of the Schiff memo despite the fact that the President ignored or brushed aside similar objections raised from the same parties regarding the Nunes memo just a week ago.

Notwithstanding all of that, as I said it’s hard not to see ulterior motives on the part of the White House here, especially given the circumstances under which the decision was announced. This is especially true when you look at the details of what has happened over the past week.

When the decision was made to release the Nunes memo, it was announced early in the day last Friday and the committee was able to release the memo well before the end of the day, putting it in the headlines for the rest of the weekend. Of course, as it turned out, that memo did not stand up to scrutiny. Contrary to President Trump’s claims the next day, for example, the memo did not “totally vindicate” him with respect to the Russia investigation, indeed the memo itself barely touched on the premise of that investigation and acknowledged that the Russia investigation had begun three months prior to the first application for a FISA warrant against Page based on information about an entirely different Trump campaign associate. Additionally, it quickly became apparent that the Nunes memo had omitted and represented significant details about the FISA warrant application against Page such as the fact that the FISA Court was in fact advised of the political nature of the funding behind its preparation. For that and a variety of other reasons, it’s clear that the Nunes memo was a complete dud and that it did not have the impact that many conservatives and Trump supporters had claimed it would.

Additionally, it’s worth remembering that Trump essentially ignored the strong objections of the FBI and other agencies, which included rumors that F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray could resign in protest if Trump authorized the release of the Nunes memo. Despite those objections, Trump went ahead and authorized the release of the Nunes memo without any redactions at all. Now that he’s presented with a counter-memo that is intended to rebut the underlying claims of the Nunes memo, it does seem odd that the President is suddenly concerned with the national security implications that might come with releasing the Schiff memo. It seems just as likely that he was looking for an excuse to block or at least delay the release so as to minimize the impact that it might have on public opinion.

Some might say that the President deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to national security issues such as this. Under ordinary circumstances, that would be an argument I’m willing to accept as reasonable. These, however, are not ordinary circumstances, As I’ve noted repeatedly here over the past nearly three years that Donald Trump has been on the political stage there is little reason to give this President the benefit of the doubt, and that applies to his White House as well given the extent to which they have enabled and reinforced his penchant for exaggeration, lying, hyperpartisanship, and most especially the President’s rather obvious desire to undermine the Russia investigation. Given all of that, it is difficult to believe at face value that there were legitimate reasons for a decision that seems to be so blatantly partisan.

Update: For some reason, the option to post comments on this post was turned off. I’ve fixed that issue so you should be able to comment now.

Here’s the White House letter regarding the decision to block the release of the Schiff memo:

White House Letter on Democratic Memo by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Doug Mataconis, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    This seems utterly predictable. I guess Dems can argue that there is a rebuttal to the Nunes memo, but we can’t show you. Which is going to be pretty weak. I hope Schiff had some plan beyond this, but I don’t see it.

    Yes the Nunes memo is a nothingburger, but Trump is saying it proves the investigation is political so he should fire Rosenstein. He could, with equal justice, have said the Eagles won the Super Bowl so the investigation is political. And if he had 30-40% of the electorate and all the GOPs in Congress would believe him and support him in firing Rosenstein.

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  2. TM 01 says:

    Ooh…. Secretly edited.

    To fix spelling mistakes and to change items requested by the FBI.

    The FBI originally objected to the Nunes memo because of security concerns. There was nothing in there that was a concern. Hence the changing of the story to it’s accuracy.

    The Schiff memo does apparently include methods relating to intelligence gathering.

    This was a setup by Schiff from the start. If it really vindicated the Democrats it would have been leaked by now because Resist or whatever.

    I do think tho, that Trump should have released the full memo.

    Now let’s all see the full version of that FISA warrent application.

    Let’s see everything.

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  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @TM 01:

    The Schiff memo does apparently include methods relating to intelligence gathering.

    So redact them …

    Now let’s all see the full version of that FISA warrent application.

    Will never happen, sorry.

    In the end, this played out to be exactly what it was expected to be – an attempt to manipulate the political narrative to create a political environment favorable to Trump doing what he’s wanted to do since last year – fire Rosenstein (and by doing so rid himself of Mueller without having to take the heat of actually firing Mueller himself).

    Unfortunately (for Republicans anyway), it’s pretty roundly viewed as having been a nothingburger motivated by blatantly partisan political goals. The short version: it not only failed to achieve its purpose, it actually undermined it.

    Trump is terrified of Mueller & where his investigation will inevitably get to (if it isn’t there already, which seems likely based on what we know), and because of that he’s trying desperately to find a way to stop the investigation before it gets there.

    He’s Nixon trying to fire Cox. In a way, I almost hope that he does try. It will be the one thing that finally galvanizes opposition to him and his administration in a way that this other reality TV drama garbage hasn’t entirely accomplished.

    Nixon fired Cox. It turned the nation against him and led to Democrats picking up 49 seats in the subsequent election. If Trump wants to wade into those waters, ok. Just watch out for the sharks … 🙂

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  4. Todd says:

    How about our congressional intel oversight committees go back to doing their actual jobs: holding closed door classified hearings, that nobody leaks about for political purposes.

    p.s. Before anybody accuses me for “bothsiderism”, I think the breakdown of norms on the intel committee is just a particularly glaring, among man examples of why the Republican party (as currently configured) can’t be trusted to be in charge of government. Everybody who is not okay with what’s happening in our country right now needs to put any all differences we have aside to make sure the November mid-terms send a very loud and clear message.

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  5. MBunge says:

    In the long history of pitiful anti-Trump arguments at this place, we may have a new leader for “Most Intellectually Embarassing Post.” I mean, ignoring the fact that all the “security” objections to the release of the Nunes memo have been shown to be blatant lies is pretty bad. But to admit that Trump probably has good reason for sending the Schiff memo back for revision BUT STILL CRITICIZING HIM FOR IT has to be a new low (high?) for cognitive dissonance at this blog.

    For the sake of quality discourse, please take this suggestion. There are positive thing you guys could post about Trump. Not a lot but there are things you would praise or defend if they involved any other figure in politics. There are also a lot of negative things you could post about Democrats, liberals, and Trump critics. These posts would be entirely consistent with everything you guys have claimed to believe and which you would have written at any previous time in this blog’s existence. Your refusal to do either of those things is actually harming your ability to make any anti-Trump argument intelligently.

    You guys are doing the equivalent of huffing too many fumes. You are damaging your ability to think for a momentary high and even that high is starting to lose its kick, isn’t it?

    Mike

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  6. michael reynolds says:

    Trump’s usual response to failure is to declare bankruptcy, blame someone else, run away and hide behind NDAs. Sadly for Traitor Don, that’s not available. This is criminal law not civil, and the annoying thing about prosecutors is you can’t just write them $130,000 hush money check.

    A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. He spends every hour of every day in terror of being exposed as the empty, failure of a man he secretly knows himself to be. If he were not such a vile piece of human garbage I’d feel some pity. Talk about the line between tragedy and comedy. This is Macbeth as rewritten by and played by Adam Sandler.

    It still astonishes me that actual grown-up humans can see this buffoon as a hero.

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  7. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    You worship a man who is a money-launderer, a fraudster, a pathological liar, the head of an active crime family, a man who hires and defends wife beaters, the man at the head of the most corrupt administration since Harding.

    I’m sorry, what were you prattling on about?

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  8. @MBunge:

    If you really read the post, you’d know that I am deeply skeptical of the justification that Trump is using to block the Schiff memo, especially in light of the fact that he ignored the warnings of the FBI and other agencies with respect to the Nunes memo.

    At the same time I am willing to at least entertain the possibility that the objections made by the FBI, whatever they made be, are legitimate. If that’s the case, then it should be relatively easy to redact the information that concerns them sufficiently. That means I am giving the intelligence agencies and the Bureau at least some benefit of the doubt. Trump, on the other hand, has proven himself unworthy of such deference by his own behavior and lies. That’s why it’s easy to conclude that his decision not to declassify the Schiff memo as-is is, at the very least, suspicious.

    As I said,let’s see how this issue plays itself out. As things stand, though, the fact that Trump did not care about the objections of the DoJ regarding the Nunes memo but suddenly seems to have “found religion” when it comes time to release the memo rebutting it is highly suspicious to say the least.

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  9. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds:

    One more suggestion. The more you come of as a raving loon, the less effective your comments on the mental or emotional states of others.

    Mike

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  10. Todd says:

    @Doug Mataconis: the irony is, Trump would have likely been better off politically blocking both memos {because the FBI wanted him to) and just letting the competing talking heads on cable tv speculate about what may or not have been in them.

    Beside that point though, we have a few broader problems in this country when it comes to classified information. First, it’s pretty well known that entirely too much information is classified in the first place. However, setting that concern aside, I’m also not so sure that any of us are particularly well served when so much information that probably does need to be held fairly close to the vest inevitably makes it’s way into the public arena.

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  11. al-Ameda says:

    @Todd:

    How about our congressional intel oversight committees go back to doing their actual jobs: holding closed door classified hearings, that nobody leaks about for political purposes.

    I agree, however as long as Devin Nunes is on, or chairs, the Intelligence Committee, this is close to impossible.

    The deal was done and the Committee work severely compromised when Chairman Nunes pulled his unethical stunt last March. That ‘midnight run’ when he took classified intelligence documents to the White House for their review. The following morning he publicly declared that our intelligence agencies had ‘”incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”

    After that stunt the only way back to ‘regular order’ and bipartisan efforts was to remove Nunes from the Committee. Not unexpectedly that did not happen.

    Then this episode, the so-called Nunes Memo, intended only to pollute the waters and further ensure that the Mueller investigation is crippled to the point where Trump can get someone to pull the plug on it, or that Mueller’s final report is not believed by the same 40 percent who apparently love this bulls**.

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  12. Kathy says:

    What’s the opposite of “surprised”?

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    Shall we take a quick poll and see who has more credibility around here? Spoiler: it ain’t you.

    No one takes you seriously because you don’t take truth seriously. I’ve tried to explain this basic fact to you and the other Trumpaloons, but when you have no intellectual integrity, when you simply fabricate and lie, you become essentially white noise. Your statements are voids.

    I’m not surprised you don’t get it, Mike, you never have, you never will, because your entire world view is predicated on transparent lies you gobble up with your morning Wheaties.

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  14. Todd says:

    @al-Ameda: See the second part of my post. The current Republican party can not be trusted to govern. I don’t think that all Republicans are bad, but the ones who (too often privately) agree that things are coming off the rails, really need to do something to take back their party (from the right-wing media that controls it).

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  15. SKI says:

    @MBunge: That is good advice …. you should definitely take it and apply it to yourself.

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  16. al-Ameda says:

    @MBunge:

    For the sake of quality discourse, please take this suggestion. There are positive thing you guys could post about Trump.

    Okay, I’ll give you one:
    The recent deal that senators Schumer and McConnell brokered was done without any involvement by, or inclusion of, President Trump. Therefore the conditions where constructive work could get done were optimized.

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  17. @Todd: I have to agree: I don’t find the release of memos to be all that helpful

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  18. Brooklyn Dave says:

    @MBunge: You should really try, and I do mean TRY, to actually read the post you’re commenting on. Then, maybe, you might write something interesting. As it stands now, your comment just comes off as delusional.

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  19. Modulo Myself says:

    The GOP’s story is just illegible. I mean, if you’re going to rig FISA to spy on Trump why not get a warrant for Don Jr or Bannon? Instead this deep state went after a former adviser who nobody had even heard of.

    Trump is just going to continue to feed his base this stuff, who will accept it no matter what. I have this deepening suspicion that the Dems will use what Mueller finds and the stupidity of the Trump base to take the House and Senate, but that Trump and the GOP will try to find pseudo-legal loopholes to prohibit the Democrats being sworn in. I have no idea what these will be. They don’t either. His base will swallow whatever it is.

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  20. Jake says:

    Fruit of the poisonous tree.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypU75jggiqc

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  21. Jake says:

    We need a full-blown investigation of how the FISA court came to grant warrants to spy on Carter Page. In a word, the Grassley-Graham memo is shocking. Yet, the press barely notices. Rest assured: If a Republican administration had used unverifiable hearsay from a patently suspect agent of the Republican presidential candidate to gull the FISA court into granting a warrant to spy on an associate of the Democratic nominee’s campaign, it would be covered as the greatest political scandal in a half-century.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/456287/grassley-graham-memo-affirms-nunes-memo-fisa-steele-dossier

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  22. NW-Steve says:

    @MBunge:

    But to admit that Trump probably has good reason for sending the Schiff memo back for revision BUT STILL CRITICIZING HIM FOR IT has to be a new low (high?) for cognitive dissonance at this blog.

    Why would we admit that when there is zero evidence available to support your statement. If you have some, please present it.

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  23. TM 01 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: what warnings from the FBI? Don’t release it because it might make us look bad?

    Despite your blather in your article, there were actually zero national security issues with the Nunes meno (which is why the story about the FBI objections changed after its release).

    might it just be possible that the Schiff memo does indeed contain information that would harm US security?

    The Big Nothing burger is that despite all the shrill objections gfrom the left, Nunes did NOT affect naturally security at all.

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  24. michael reynolds says:

    @TM 01:
    Tell you what. Why don’t you concern yourself with the fact that a whole bunch of Trump’s staffer have access to Top Secret intel for which they have not been cleared, and for which they could be blackmailed?

    Or you could concern yourself with the fact that our allies no longer trust us with their intel because Trump is a fwcking idiot?

    Or you could go right to said fwcking idiot and recognize that he’s already exposed Israeli intel to the Russians and did an impromptu table-side power Point of North Korean intel at Mar-a-lago?

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  25. michael reynolds says:

    @Jake:
    Genius: Page was running around openly bragging about his Russia connections while he was being recruited by the FSB which found him to be, and I quote, “an idiot?” Maybe investigate how an idiot became a ‘major foreign policy advisor’ to Trump.

    We’d need an investigation if the FISA court had refused surveillance on this clown.

    But, I know: Hannity told you otherwise.

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  26. Jake says:
  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jake:

    It is so cute when white supremacists like yourself try to play internet lawyer.

    Run along now, Grand Dragon. You’ve overstayed your welcome & you’re stinking up the place.

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  28. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    He spends every hour of every day in terror of being exposed as the empty, failure of a man he secretly knows himself to be.

    I am inclined to go with the tactic that this statement should be the official Democratic response to any further discussion of Trump and Russia.

    Having said that, such a tactic will involve the Democrats deciding what they want to endorse policy wise beyond “we don’t like the way that Trump and the GOP are mismanaging things.” I don’t know whether they can pull that part of the process off or not, but if Democratic policy solutions will not convince the electorate or alienate it, then their battle is already lost.

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  29. Scott O says:

    @Jake: I’ve got some really bad news for you. That “real Harvard lawyer” is a Jew. Better not let your buddies know you like his video.

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  30. TM 01 says:

    @michael reynolds:
    So… No further comment on the memo, eh?
    Giving up on that one already?

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  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @TM 01:

    There’s nothing else to be said about it. People like you (who truthfully are the audience that this failed political stunt was aimed from the outset) are going to continue to desperately try to find some “there” there. Understandable, when it’s all you’ve got, but still sort of pathetic nonetheless. You’re beating a dead horse.

    Everybody else has evaluated it, determined that it’s a huge pile of nothing, and moved on. Sorry to disappoint.

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  32. Kylopod says:

    @Scott O:

    I’ve got some really bad news for you. That “real Harvard lawyer” is a Jew. Better not let your buddies know you like his video.

    When David Duke is gushing over Stephen Miller, I doubt the fact that Dersh is the one coming up with these defenses will bother them much; indeed I think they like having their token Yid, like a black best friend, to prove their supposed non-bigotry.

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  33. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @TM 01:

    Note: if you would like to discuss a certain Russian oligarch with ties to Русская мафия paying Trump $30 million over FMV for a property in Florida (which he still hasn’t recouped and likely never will), we’re available.

    Shady Russians seem to have quite an affinity for grossly overpaying for property where Trump is concerned. Would you like to explain to the class why you believe that’s the case?

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  34. Jake says:
  35. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jake:

    And now we’ve pivoted back to The Treehouse for Morons

    I seriously have to ask – is there ever a time when you get tired of making a complete fool of yourself? You’re being laughed at, Grand Dragon.

    You do realize that, correct? 🙄

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  36. TM 01 says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Got it.
    We’re done talking about the memo and have moved on to calling everyone who disagrees with you a racist.

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  37. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @TM 01:

    No, just the people who regurgitate material from white supremacist sources. Do try to keep up.

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  38. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Jake: I’ve never actually read anything from Conservative Treehouse before. Wow! You guys believe this schlock? REALLY? It’s not even coherent thinking. I’m gobsmacked!

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  39. Hal_10000 says:

    The key word in Trump’s tweet is “long”. He hasn’t read the memo.

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  40. Kylopod says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The key word in Trump’s tweet is “long”. He hasn’t read the memo.

    Ha! Good job translating Trumpese.

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