By Norman Eisen, Caroline Fredrickson and Noah Bookbinder
The FBI issued an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, pushing back on the release of a partisan congressional memo alleging the bureau used improper evidence to obtain legal permission to surveil a Trump campaign adviser. We’ve never seen anything like it. “[T]he FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
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The memo, written by Congressman Devin Nunes and barreling toward public circulation at the president’s discretion, has already created a firestorm, and it is not even out yet. Nunes fired back at the FBI hours later, claiming, “It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign.”
Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: This memo is the latest escalation in an eight-month effort to tarnish the Russia investigation that might be the most significant smear campaign against the executive branch since Joe McCarthy—only here, the effort is being led by the head of that branch himself. As the New York Times reported, the Nunes memo seems like a dagger aimed by President Trump at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the Russia probe for the Justice Department.
Republican huzzahs over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment were still echoing when the opening salvo of this shocking campaign was launched: the claim that Mueller had disqualifying “conflicts.” Never mind that the Justice Department cleared Mueller of conflicts before he was appointed. Or that ethical standards do not remotely support disqualification over issues like Mueller’s professional acquaintance with James Comey, his employment at a firm that represented Trump associates, or even a long-ago dispute over the amount of fees Mueller owed at a Trump golf course. These meritless conflicts claims have continued to resurface like a game of whack-a-mole, popping up elsewhere after they are knocked down.