Trump Claims The Nunes Memo “Totally Vindicates” Him. It Doesn’t.
President Trump is claiming that the Nunes memo vindicates him. He's wrong.
From the friendly confines of his Mar-A-Lago home where he’s spending another “working weekend” conveniently close to one of his golf courses, President Trump claims that the memorandum released yesterday by the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee “totally vindicates” him, he couldn’t possibly be more incorrect:
President Trump said Saturday morning that a disputed four-page House Intelligence Committee memo, composed by Republicans and declassified by him on Friday, “totally vindicates ‘Trump'” in an FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including possible ties to his campaign.
“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on,” the president wrote in a tweet at 9:40 a.m. Saturday. “Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!”
It’s unclear why the president put his last name in quotation marks, although he often speaks of himself in the third-person, and the tweet used the word “their” instead of “there.” The president is in Palm Beach, Fla., this weekend, and the tweet came minutes after his motorcade left his private club, en route to the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
The GOP memo was composed by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and alleges the FBI abused its surveillance authority, particularly when it sought a secret court order to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The FBI and the Justice Department lobbied against the release of the memo, with the FBI saying that it was ”gravely concerned” that key facts were missing from it.
The memo states that the findings “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain [Justice Department] and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC),” which authorizes surveillance of individuals believed to be agents of foreign powers. The memo cites “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process,” a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The memo alleges that a surveillance warrant was obtained and renewed on a former Trump campaign adviser, Page, with information from an individual with an anti-Trump agenda. Republicans have argued that the warrant taints the origins of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and agents of the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.
Here’s the President’s Tweet:
This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 3, 2018
The most notable thing about the Tweet that was picked up by many people on Twitter when it was posted is the fact that the President refers to himself in the third-person and, for some reason, put his name in quotation marks. The reason for this is unknown but its not uncommon for Trump to refer to himself in this manner, so I don’t really see anything significant in that quirk other than it being another example of Trump being Trump, or is that “Trump” being “Trump.”
Putting that stylistic observation to the side, the content of the memorandum doesn’t even come close to vindicating Trump in connection with Russian interference in the election, the issue of whether or not there was real or attempted collusion with the Russians on the part of people affiliated with the Trump campaign or efforts by Trump to undermine the investigation after he became President. The memo itself acknowledges all of this near the end when it states that the F.B.I. opened its Russia investigation not in response to any information obtained pursuant to the warrant issued against former Trump campaign aide Cater Page by the FISA Court, but after the Bureau received word of a conversation between Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat over drinks. During that conversation, Papadopoulos told the diplomat that he had been told by a Kremlin conduct that the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. That conversation, which occurred roughly around the same time as the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign insiders and a Russian lawyer with ties to the government that had been sold to Trump Jr. as being for the purpose of passing along “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos has, of course, since pled guilty to a charge of lying to an F.B.I. agent and is now a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation. This conversation quickly came to the knowledge of officials in the Justice Department, and an F.B.I. investigation into the matter was opened. This was more than three months before the first warrant request to surveil Carter Page was made to the FISA Court. Additionally, all of the allegations in the memorandum pre-date Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel and do not implicate any of the officials tied to that investigation in any wrongdoing, or in some cases in any involvement at all in obtaining the warrant against Page.
In addition to not vindicating Trump with respect to any charges related to the election, the memo does not address any aspect of the potential claims that he has engaged in a pattern of behavior designed to obstruct and undermine the investigation from the moment he became President. To start with, the memo addresses a warrant that was originally requested prior to the time that Trump was even elected President, although it’s interesting to note that Justice Department lawyers requested extensions of that warrant in January, April, and July of last year at which time they would have been required to present evidence showing that there was probable cause to continue the surveillance that went beyond the original justification for the warrant. In any case, the memo does not address any of the actions that Trump has taken that have been at the very least suspicious. This includes asking F.B.I. Director James Comey to go easy on former NSC Adviser Michael Flynn, asking Comey for loyalty, firing James Comey, pressuring the heads of the intelligence agencies to vindicate him in the Russia investigation, pressuring Senators to shut down the Russia investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, trying to fire Robert Mueller only to be stopped by his White House counsel. It also doesn’t address Trump’s role in drafting a false statement about the purpose of the meeting between his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign manager and a lawyer affiliated with the Russian government.
In other words, even if you take everything in the Nunes memo as a true and complete summary of the underlying documents, there is nothing about the memorandum that vindicates Trump in any respect. That investigation continues forward, and unless he takes actions that would clearly set off a Constitutional crisis such as firing Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller, it will continue. Trump may wish otherwise, but this is far from over.