By Phillip Carter
On its face, the so-called Nunes memo regarding government surveillance of Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2016 does little to undermine the case against President Trump and his confederates. It does not contradict the indictments against Paul Manafort or Rick Gates nor explain the plea agreements of Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, nor extinguish questions about the extent to which Russia interfered in the election—either in collusion with the Trump campaign or not.
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What the Nunes memo does do is escalate the conflict underway between Trump and his partisans and the leaders of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities. This conflict began before Trump’s inauguration but now burns hotter than ever as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation inches closer to the president himself. In ordering the release of the Nunes memo, Trump has signaled his willingness to betray the national security community in favor of his own interest. Whether the facts in the memo are true or not, or whether they burn intelligence sources and methods, matters little in comparison to Trump’s egregious calculus of personal interest.
The memo was drafted for Nunes by Kashyap Patel, a congressional staffer and former Justice Department national security lawyer. Patel’s great claim to fame before this episode was being scolded in 2016 by a federal judge in Texas for showing up late and without a suit in a counterterrorism case. In his memo to Republican members of the House intelligence committee, Patel essentially asserts that the FBI’s application for a secret surveillance warrant against Page was deeply flawed and itself corrupted by politics.