The political conflict in Washington expressed in the Russia investigation has reached a new and extraordinary level of intensity, with the White House expected to deliver a public rebuff to the FBI and the Justice Department Friday. White House officials told the press Thursday afternoon that President Trump had approved the public release of the so-called "Nunes memo" over the vociferous objections of the FBI, and that it would probably be sent back to Congress for release sometime Friday.
The Nunes memo is a four-page document drafted by the staff of the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republican Representative Devin Nunes of California. It reportedly states that the FBI initiated wiretap surveillance of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page in October 2016, at the height of the presidential election campaign, based on unproven allegations of ties between Page, Trump and the Russian government.
These allegations make up the bulk of a 35-page report prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent hired by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based muckraking firm that was commissioned by the Democrats to conduct opposition research into Trump. Steele compiled raw, unverified material supplied by his Russian contacts, purporting to document Trump's efforts to develop business in Moscow and the Russian government's efforts to cultivate relations with Trump's campaign staff and advisers.
Whatever its own lies and distortions, the Nunes memo apparently asserts one irrefutable truth. It argues that the Russia investigation was concocted, without any genuine basis in fact, by sections of the intelligence apparatus who supported Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Despite the massive media propaganda on this issue, no actual evidence has ever been presented of Russian interference in the 2016 elections (whether through hacking or through the purchase of small quantities of pro-Trump advertising on social media). This bogus issue has been placed at the center of American political life to promote a definite line in foreign policy, demanding greater US military intervention in the Syrian civil war and a more militantly anti-Russian posture in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Both sides in the conflict in official Washington are reactionary and antidemocratic. While Trump speaks for sections of Wall Street, allied with fascistic and racist factions of the ultra-right, the Democrats defend big business with equal fervor, while voicing the concerns of the dominant sections of the military-intelligence apparatus.
The Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee pushed through a vote to make the Nunes memo public in a party-line vote on Monday night, which started the clock on a five-day period for White House review before release of the document. At the same time, the committee voted to keep secret a minority report by the committee Democrats rebutting the memo.
"It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign," Nunes said in a statement after the vote. "Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again."
FBI Director Christopher Wray has stridently opposed the release of the memo. Remarkably, Nunes initially opposed even allowing the FBI to see the memo, and the committee voted not to permit Wray to address them in person before the vote to release it.
Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to the White House Monday afternoon to appeal for support, only to be flatly rebuffed in a meeting with chief of staff John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn. Trump did not even bother to speak with them -- both his own appointees to top Justice Department positions.
On Wednesday, the FBI released an unprecedented statement denouncing the House Intelligence Committee decision to release the memo (and implicitly criticizing Trump's support for that action). The two-paragraph statement was not issued under Wray's name -- an apparent signal that he did not intend to provoke his own firing -- but it was nonetheless an unmistakable act of defiance.
"With regard to the House Intelligence Committee's memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it," the statement said. "As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."
Nunes replied in even more strident terms, declaring in a statement: "Having stonewalled Congress' demands for information for nearly a year, it's no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, addressing the question Thursday during a Republican congressional retreat in West Virginia, said that the public needs to know if federal agents "brought bias or cut corners or did something wrong." He cited concerns about the Justice Department's "violating American civil liberties." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, standing side-by-side with Ryan, said that Nunes is "handling this just right."