The Nunez Memo

Nunez press conference

Devin Nunez at Press Conference (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

So, after much ballyhoo, the memo was finally released to the public.  Here are my thoughts.

  1. The memo is essentially correct in its main implication: there are those in the FBI that are opposed to Trump.  After all, they are searching for the truth: they come to conclusions based on actual facts.  In the world of alternative facts espoused by Trump and his followers, this is opposition research, by definition.  Trump has made clear that he wants loyalty to him, not a dogged pursuit of the truth.
  2. The memo does not reveal anything that should have been classified in the first place.  While I am willing to concede that anti-espionage requires some secrecy, I can’t imagine that anything in this memo wasn’t already known to the professionals engaged with the topic.  I read it without gaining any new insights into “sources and methods.”
  3. The memo castigates the FBI for using a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, who was working on a research project partially paid for by the Clinton campaign.  According to a source quoted in the memo, “Steele was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”  Given what Mr. Steele had learned in his research, I fully understand and sympathize with his point of view.   He acted to make the information that he had gathered known to the public and was therefore terminated as a source for the FBI.
  4. The memo labels the dossier “salacious and un-verified” (when the investigation began), and condemns Steele for “anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations.”  Thus, it is basically an ad hominem attack on Steele.  It does not convince me that anything in the dossier is untrue.  Buzzfeed, which published the dossier in full, noted that it does contain some errors, but these appear to be minor details.
  5. Those who criticize the memo for cherry picking facts to give an erroneous picture of what took place are almost certainly correct.  If I trusted the authors, I might be concerned about the issues that it raises.  However, these are clearly politicians with an ax to grind.

I conclude that the FBI is doing its job, and that Trump and his Republican allies are not happy about it.  I knew this before the memo came out.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does its work in secrecy and, as John F. Kennedy said, “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society”.  This court needs supervision.  However, I find it hard to imagine our current congress providing any useful oversight.