By Abigail Tracy
The much-anticipated Nunes memo, released Friday after weeks of feverish build-up on the far-right, appears to be a dud. The declassified report accuses a group of current and former Justice Department and F.B.I. officials—including James Comey, his former deputy Andrew McCabe, and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—of approving applications to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without disclosing that ex-British intelligence spy Christopher Steele, who compiled an intelligence dossier used in the warrant, was paid by Democratic sources and harbored anti-Trump bias. The most damning piece of evidence is the claim that McCabe had testified in December that the warrant would not have been sought without the dossier. Nowhere in the four-page memo is it noted that Page had already been on the F.B.I.’s radar for years, after he was targeted for recruitment by a Russian spy in 2013.
Advertisement - story continues below
The consequences could be more than just a letdown for Trump. Rather than providing a smoking gun to discredit the Mueller investigation, it now seems that the president may have needlessly antagonized the F.B.I., and added to the perception that he is obstructing the Russia probe, with little political payoff. Some within the White House seemed to have anticipated that outcome, and had moved to downplay the memo’s significance in the days before its release. According to The Washington Post, Chief of Staff John Kelly had cautioned “that releasing the memo would not risk national security but that the document was not as compelling as some of its advocates had promised Trump.” Axios picked up whispers that several White House aides who had seen the memo were “fairly underwhelmed” and worried that it would be a lemon.
Trump, however, leapt at the opportunity to release the memo even before he saw it. “There was never any hesitation,” a presidential adviser told the Post. “He wanted it out.” Trump’s calculation is personal: he reportedly believes the memo constitutes proof that the Deep State is out to get him. Yet in approving its disclosure, the president took an enormous risk, undermining an already-strained relationship with F.B.I. head Christopher Wray, whose agency took the rare step of releasing a statement on Wednesday citing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Wray reportedly expressed his concerns to the president directly; according to CNN, the F.B.I. director was “raising hell” over the document, prompting concerns among top White House aides that its release would prompt his resignation. (A former D.O.J. colleague of Wray’s told Politico that such concerns are unwarranted, saying that Wray will “tough this one out . . . he will understand his leadership is needed.”)