What the Nunes Memo Tells us

Mostly it just tells us that Nunes and his allies are hacks.

Here are some things that I think the Nunes memo tells us.

 1. This is all about crass partisan politics.  I specifically use the modifiers “crass” (as in crude and simplistic) and “partisan” (as in for the purpose of furthering party over anything else).

I say this because of this line early in the memo:  “Our findings, which are detailed below, 1) raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)…”

Ok, if the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence actually believes that there is illegality at the FBI and DOJ it has an obligation to take its oversight role seriously and pursue a real investigation of potential illegality at the highest levels of federal law enforcement, not just release a memo that does contain actual legal conclusions or findings.

This memo denigrates important governing institutions not because they deserve denigration, but because attacking them furthers very crude partisan goals.

2.  Nunes is not a serious interlocutor.  One can have a partisan perspective and still be an honest broker.  Nunes clearly is not such.

Via The Hill:  Nunes: I did not read material summarized in the memo.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Friday admitted that did not personally review the applications for surveillance warrants that provide the basis of the classified memo released earlier in the day.

Nunes said he relied on the review of committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

“No, I didn’t,” Nunes told Fox News’s Bret Baier, when asked if he saw the applications.


Nunes, the chairman of the committee, brushed off news reports that accused him of not seeing the underlying documents as “bogus.”

He explained that the committee set up an agreement with the Justice Department that would allow just one person to review the documents.

Nunes said he thought Gowdy would be the best choice because of his background as a federal prosecutor, and that Gowdy then shared his notes and observations with the rest of the members.

Even if the strictures for review are as described, then take Gowdy’s summary, if necessary, as evidence for further internal (to the committee) action.  Don’t release a second-hand summary that has not been adequately analyzed.

Not to mention (also from The Hill): Gowdy: Nunes memo does not discredit Mueller probe in any way.

We need a complete understanding of what has transpired.  If Nunes thought that Gowdy’s review indicated trouble at the FBI or with the FISC process, then, again:  launch an appropriate investigation, don’t undermine the process to protect the leader of the party.

3. This is simply about muddying the waters.  This memo will give defenders of the president room to state that that whole Mueller probe is bogus because of this memo (reading it to come that conclusion will be optional, of course).  Ultimately, it will be used a means by which skeptics can be even more skeptical.

Or it will be used as an a means of exoneration (via CNN):   Trump tweets that memo ‘totally vindicates’ him in Russia probe.

I can’t disagree with the last sentence, but not for the reasons intended.

Side note:  why is Trump in quotes, and why does he keep capitalizing Collusion and Obstruction?  Further, his simplistic approach to this stuff is stunning (e.g., it is possible that both collusion and obstruction are on the table at the same time).

4. It undercuts the GOP’s Dossier theory.  A main argument being made by Trump and his defenders is that the whole investigation is based on the Steele Dossier, and therefore is nothing more than oppo-research gone amuck.

Numerous individuals have pointed out, however, that the memo undercuts that meme rather severely because of that last paragraph that confirms NYT exclusive from last year (that some Trump supporters criticized) that the investigation started with George Papadopoulos, not the Steele dossier.

An excellent run-down of this fact can be found via that known bastion of American liberalism, The National Review.   David French notes The Big Flaw in the Memo,

the counterintelligence investigation opened when the Times said it opened based on the person the Times identified. While the memo then does a nice job detailing Strzok’s misconduct, it also indulges one of those “material omissions” the FBI warned about earlier this week: the evidence supporting the opening of the Papadopoulos investigation. Strzok may have his biases, but if the evidence upon which the investigation was opened is sound, then the investigation is appropriate.


Ironically enough, the memo in fact confirms the necessity of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller insulated the investigation from the problematic elements of the FBI, disciplined a biased agent (Strzok), and is conducting an investigation that now includes copious amounts of alarming evidence gained independently of the memo — including the evidence that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russians in what was described in an email as a Russian plan to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

Specifically:  the intel on Papadopoulus led to an investigation that started in July of 2016.  The FISA request that was linked to the Steele Dossier in the memo was made in October.  This timeline undercuts the notion that this is somehow all about the dossier alone or that it was the genesis of the investigation.

Ultimately, members of Congress who take seriously their duties don’t just release incomplete conclusions and selected information into the public.  That is the action of partisan hacks.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. al-Ameda says:

    I am still amazed that Devin Nunes is still on the Intelligence Committee after that stunt he pulled in 2017 – his midnight run, without the knowledge and consent of the Committee, to disclose Committee materials to the White House. And now this …

    Frankly, it would not surprise me if it turns out that Nunes is working directly with White House staffers, that someone on Trump’s team helped Nunes to write this shoddy memorandum.

    Unless – (1) the 2018 elections flip the House or the Senate, or (2) Mueller releases bombshell information before Trump can fire Rosenstein, appoint a successor who then pulls the plug on Mueller’s investigation – this is how our government is going to be.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    What the Nunes memo says is interesting in and of itself. But the foofaraw surrounding it may reveal more Republican criminality. As I mentioned on another thread, Page appeared on Madow’s show last Octobe and started rambling on about how he would be vindicated because Paul Ryan would green light the release of information about a FISA warrant. As Maddow tells it, no one knew what it meant at the time because, well, Page is a bit of a strange ranger and tends to go off on sketchy tangents. But by god, earlier this week Ryan ago did indeed green light this memo which focuses almost entirely about the FISA warrant on Page. It seems that someone had discussed the FISA warrant with Carter Page, someone who accurately knew Ryan’s thinking. I’m pretty sure it is a criminal offense to reveal FISA information to anyone, much less to the subject of a warrant. And now it seems that Mueller is in the process of flipping Page. Which means he’ll have to reveal how he knew.

    This memo may backfire on the Republicans in ways greater than they currently realize.

  3. Jake says:

    Schiff said memo would endanger natl sec. It did not. He said it contained sources & methods that couldn’t be released. He was lying. He said it was materially altered. It was not. Time & again he repeatedly feeds media & public TPs that are just not true. Why’s he running point?

  4. HarvardLaw92 says:


    At a minimum it’s criminal contempt of court. It’s arguably a great deal more than that. Somebody belongs in prison for revealing it to Page.

  5. @Jake: Given that I have not addressed Schiff at all, I do not have any particular need to defend him. Further, none of that changed what the memo is (and isn’t).

    Indeed, the only people I quoted in this post are Nunes, Gowdy, Trump, and David French (and the memo itself). Any thoughts on what any of them have to say?

  6. Jake says:

    As I said to Tucker the other night, there’s no evidence of Russian government interference with the 2016 election, but there’s plenty of evidence of US government interference with the 2016 election. The latter ought to be far more disturbing. All foreign governments can be expected to pursue their national interests as they see fit. That the most powerful forces within your own government decide to subvert the election result is far more bizarre, and far graver.

    The surveillance of Carter Page was a cover for the surveillance of Trump. The creation of the Steele dossier was a cover for the “Full Investigation” of the Trump campaign. The rumors of Kremlin “kompromat” are a cover for the widespread dissemination of Democrat “kompromat”. And “foreign interference” in the US election is cover for domestic interference in the US election.


  7. Jake says:

    Chuck Grassley Memo Comes Next – Question Surrounds FBI Knowledge of Steele Shopping Dossier To Media…


  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    LOL, how did I know that Mark Steyn and the Treehouse for Morons would be in this clown’s bag?

    You gave it a good effort, “Jake”, but

    1) you won’t get a rise out of us, no matter how hard you try, and;

    2) You’re just giving us a reason to laugh at you.

    Better luck next time. See Janice for your parting gifts.

  9. Jake says:


    Attack the messenger. If you went to Harvard you probably failed.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I’m laughing at the messengers, just like I’m laughing at you.

    I give you points for trying though 🙄

  11. @Jake: I appreciate the link as a source, but if you are going to directly quote, use quotation marks, please.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    There is another potential gem in that memo. The only line written in bold is one trying to slime Steele, where he is quoted as saying to a colleague that it would be a catastrophe if Trump was elected president. “Bias” cry the Republicans. But if you look at that in its entire context it is incredibly damning. Steele was a top British analyst specializing in Russia. He is still trusted by his own government and by ours. He was hired by a Republican to do opposition research. There was a lot of opposition research going on, but money doesn’t grow on trees. Why would a Republican pay somebody to look into Trump’s Russian ties? When that candidate dropped out, then yes, Steele shopped it to his new opponent, Hillary. But he was also so disturbed by what he found that he made that comment to his partner and they attempted repeatedly to raise red flags over it with the British and American governments. He and his partner were so worried by the incriminating evidence they were finding that they came to the belief that Trump and his senior advisors were completely compromised by the Russians. In fact, they were so disturbed by what they found they felt it would be a catastrophe if Trump became president. The ass-sniffing Republican lackeys think that bolded section is an indictment of Steele. Instead it’s a horrifying wake up call about Trump.

    I know there are many that still can’t believe that it is so blatant as Trump being blackmailed or bought off. But look at the latest revelation. Congress passed a law to sanction Russia and Trump or someone at the most senior level decided they were not going to enforce that law. Think about that. With all this Russia stuff going on, with attention constantly focused on Trump and his odd unwillingness to say or do anything that might offend Russia, his administration actively blocked federal officials from enforcing a law passed with a veto proof majority. Can you think of any reason other than Trump and his minions are in their pocket? If so, I would love to hear it.

  13. Beyond that: Tucker and Mark Steyn aren’t the most impressive of sources (at least not to me).

    Also: if I understand the timeline, Page had the FISA warranted issued on him after he left the Trump campaign, which undercuts Steyn’s already flimsy reasoning.

  14. MarkedMan says:


    As I said to Tucker the other night, there’s no evidence of Russian government interference with the 2016 election

    OK, sure. Neglecting that Trump’s kids, his son-in-law, his campaign manager and a cast of idiots have admitted on the record that they met with the Russians in Trump Tower to discuss how they could help Trumps campaign. But in the Republicoid world view, that’s not evidence. Jake, tell me about 9-11. CIA? Israel? And Sandy Hook. The kids were just manikins? Or they were killed in a false flag operation by the anti-gun leftists?

    And who the heck is Tucker? Did I miss something. Are we supposed to know him? Or did you mean Marshall Tucker? Now, there was a great band…

  15. @MarkedMan: In re: Tucker, I did have a Breaking Bad flashback: click.

  16. Jake says:


    You got Trump wrong at the election because you think your right. Must kill you the economy is doing well.

  17. de stijl says:


    Must kill you the economy is doing well.

    I’m an American. I want us to be successful and productive and healthy and safe, no matter who is President.

    I would never, ever want us to materially suffer because the political game ended up with a result that I did not wish for.

    The way you state your assertion makes it seem like you do the opposite. That you wish for and fantasize about national failure when your will is thwarted. If that is, indeed, true then you are a sad, sorry person.

  18. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Jake: Well, Jake, the stock market is looking a bit queasy this week. There’s an apt German proverb for this situation: Never praise the day before evening comes.

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:


    You got Trump wrong at the election because you think your right. Must kill you the economy is doing well.

    First, it’s “you’re”. If you’re going to stand on a platform of “I’m smarter”, then you need to, you know, actually be smarter.

    No, we got the election wrong by running a flawed candidate, and we still managed to convince nearly three million more voters than you did that we were right. We’ll own that one. You guys get to own Trump.

    And you get to own what happens in the midterms because of him. I suppose we should be telling you “Thanks”.

    As for the economy doing well, it’s been doing well for years now. Cutting taxes is the go-to move of any administration trying to inject short-term gain in an election year. Sure, it revs up economic growth in the immediate short-term, but that growth comes at a long-term cost (because it’s being financed via the expense of spiraling federal debt and potential inflation.)

    Short version: You’re setting yourselves up for rising interest rates and an (increasing, because it has already started) flight to bonds as the capital pool seeks out maximum returns. Know where that leads? Stock prices going “oops”. Republicans are incapable of managing an economy because they’re (see what I did with the contraction there?) inordinately focused on policies that produce short term gains for political benefit.

    Me personally, though? No, it doesn’t kill me at all. It makes me wealthier. The bottom inevitably falling out will do the same. People like me benefit because these ludicrous economic policies were designed to ensure that people like me will.

    Know who it will just kill? The nimrods out in flyover country who voted for Trump. Shame about that Harley Davidson factory closing, no?. 800 more Trumpkins who bought the Kool-Aid are now going to be unemployed. Too bad. So sad …

    Maybe Trump will send them a check? 🙂

  20. @de stijl:

    I’m an American. I want us to be successful and productive and healthy and safe, no matter who is President.

    Indeed. I am pleased that my original concern that his unpredictability did not cause immediate economic turmoil. I remain concerned about the long-term affects of some his policies on the structure of the global economy, but we shall see.

    It would be nice if folks like Jake would note the trend lines on things like the DJIA and unemployment before making grand pronouncements, however. We are basically still in the same economic context as with Obama (although job growth has actually slowed, but that was to be expected to some degree).

    I would note that GDP growth is not what was promised–indeed, it, too, is Obamaesque.

  21. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The best bit is right after that “Tucker” scene ends and Pinkman starts digging in the yard. Jesse is a man who understands the psychology / mental tics of meth addiction.

    Also, it’s really god damned funny.

  22. @de stijl: Such an amazing show.

  23. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Remember when, early in the Obama years, Chicago was in the running for some future summer Olympics, and when the IOC announced it would be Rio de Janeiro, and Rs rejoiced?

    The video of AFP participants gleefully clapping?

    Weekly Standard blogged, “Chicago loses! Chicago loses! Cheers erupt at WEEKLY STANDARD world headquarters.”

    All because Obama was President, and that was his town.

    I knew at that moment that something was very wrong with the tenor and substance of the discourse (and thus the underlying motivations) of a big chunk of my fellow citizens.

    They would prefer that we fail as a nation if it gives them the opportunity to stick a thumb in the eye of their domestic political enemies. That was shocking to me. That was 2009 and I still recall it vividly. It was so petty and so mean-spirited and so (well, I guess I’m grabbing the rhetorical patriotic high-ground, here) un-American.

    I remember being perplexed for about two seconds and then disgusted and angry for days that things had come to this.

  24. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Ozymandias is the best hour of television ever.

    Did you know that Jesse Pinkman was supposed to die in season one after serving as the plot device to get Walter out of lab and into the street distribution world (Tuco Salamanca)? Had it not been for the writers’ strike, Pinkman would have been gone by the end of season one? Wow, that would have made a very different show!

    Your take on Better Call Saul?

  25. @de stijl: Agreed on “Ozymandias” (and yes, I did know that about Jesse–a very different show, indeed).

    I very much enjoy Better Call Saul–not what I necessarily expected, but in a good way.

  26. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    Here’s the big story from the memo that is being so studiously overlooked here: We now have incontrovertible proof in foreign meddling in the election — but it was done on Hillary’s behalf.

    Hillary’s campaign and the DNC (which was owned by the Hillary campaign) hired a foreign retired intelligence agent (former MI6 officer Christopher Steele of the UK) to work with Russians (many part of Putin’s government) to assemble an opposition-research document on Trump that was pretty much made up. That dossier was then presented to the FISA court to get a warrant (“McCabe testified before the committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the [FISA court] without the Steele dossier information”).

    The FBI is supposed to present ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION to the Court when it goes for a warrant, especially since there’s no one there representing the other side. And the FBI very carefully omitted a lot of relevant details:

    1) The report was commissioned and paid for by Trump’s political opponent.

    2) The report was prepared by someone who was openly and fiercely opposed to Trump.

    3) The “corroborating source” — Yahoo News — was actually just repeating what Steele had told them.

    4) The guy who had prepared the report had been a paid employee of the FBI.

    5) The guy who had prepared the report had been fired by the FBI for breaking their rules against telling reporters “hey, I’m working for the FBI on this!”

    The FBI had to go back to the FISA court several times to renew these warrants, and each time they had the opportunity to fix these problems — and chose not to.

    As far as the Olympics, I had mixed feelings about Chicago’s bid. Historically speaking, hosting the Olympics has become a really, really, really BAD thing for the host cities, and they dodged a bullet. (Probably not the best metaphor to use in relation to the US murder capitol, but I’m in the hospital and strongly medicated.) On the other hand, I would have enjoyed the schadenfreude of watching the incredibly-corrupt Chicago and the incredibly-corrupt IOC totally fail.

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier:

    The FBI is supposed to present ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION to the Court when it goes for a warrant

    Says who?

    And the FBI very carefully omitted a lot of relevant details:

    1) The report was commissioned and paid for by Trump’s political opponent.

    2) The report was prepared by someone who was openly and fiercely opposed to Trump.

    3) The “corroborating source” — Yahoo News — was actually just repeating what Steele had told them.

    4) The guy who had prepared the report had been a paid employee of the FBI.

    5) The guy who had prepared the report had been fired by the FBI for breaking their rules against telling reporters “hey, I’m working for the FBI on this!”

    Actually, it’s looking like all of this information was revealed in the applications, but as I described in detail in the other thread, whatever gave you the idea that the sourcing of information is material to whether the content of that information is substantiates an application for a warrant?

    Please J – E – N – O – S, I know I’ve cautioned you against trying to play lawyer in the past, but this time I’m going to encourage you.

    By all means, please lay out your theory regarding the admissibility of evidence with respect to warrant applications. I can’t wait to hear it.

  28. grumpy realist says:

    @de stijl: Although there were a lot of us in Chicago as well who were clapping…..

    ….mainly because we felt we had dodged a poisoned chalice. Unless you’re a very large urban city (cough, Tokyo, cough) which just happens to have some still-extant-and-useable Olympic stadia lying around from the last time you held the Olympics, getting picked as the location for the Olympics has always meant a lot of expense for a very little amount of return.

    In other words, it ain’t worth the cash.