By Monika Bauerlein
Mother Jones (2/3/18)
It’s a weird feeling when your organization’s reporting ends up at the center of a scandal bordering on constitutional crisis. But things have been weird, and here we are: MoJo‘s October 2016 story about the Steele dossier is a key data point in the Nunes memo (though they couldn’t even get the date right—more on that later). That inclusion, and how it came to pass, tells us a lot about journalism, propaganda, and what democracy is up against.
Let’s unpack that a bit. First, propaganda: Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Nunes episode is how effectively it followed the playbook of contemporary disinformation campaigns. A few months ago, my colleague Denise Clifton dug up an extraordinary RAND Corporation study that found a distinctive pattern to Russian propaganda, repeated in many settings and countries.
On the first two: Noise about the Nunes memo has been deafening since congressional Republicans launched (and Russian bots amplified) #ReleasetheMemo only a couple of weeks ago. The news cycle spun into overdrive with each Trump tweet, each “deeper than Watergate” comment, each attempt by Democrats in Congress to push back. There have been, according to our quick search of the Muck Rack database, more than 3,500 stories on the memo in that time frame, or 233 per day. As MoJo blogger Kevin Drum noted, “This was a show for the media. And it worked great.”
Remember: 233 stories a day about the Nunes memo for the last two weeks. How many about Russian interference in congressional elections?
As for “lacks commitment to objective reality”: We can’t fully ascertain how reality-based the memo is because Republicans won’t release the underlying documents (which Nunes himself is open about not having bothered to read anyway). But here’s a detail that’s easy to fact-check: The memo refers to how MoJo‘s Washington bureau chief, David Corn, broke news of the Steele dossier on alleged Trump-Russia connections—and gets the date of the story wrong. Our fact-checkers would never get away with so obvious an error, but who cares, right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As for “lacks commitment to consistency”: It’s hard to overstate what an affront to consistency this whole charade has been, perhaps nowhere more so than in the claim that it was simply about getting the facts to the public. A cherry-picked narrative with no documents, no sourcing, no hearings, no witnesses, even as its purveyors refuse to let the public see a competing version? Please.
We’ve seen this movie before. Back in the 2000s, when the tobacco industry was forced to reveal how it buried evidence that smoking kills, one of the documents released was an amazing 1969 memo by a tobacco executive. He wrote:
Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.
Just as in 1969 with tobacco, the public understands the basic Russia-Trump facts quite well. Whether or not there’s a smoking gun showing that Trump personally colluded with Russian emissaries, it is well established that he and his allies enabled Putin’s attack on America’s election at every turn—and have protected the perpetrators ever since. It was only a few days ago that the administration flipped the bird to Congress, saying there’s no need for sanctions against Russia, even though lawmakers said, overwhelmingly, that there is. (Not to mention the list of Russian oligarchs that they cribbed from Trump’s favorite business magazine.)
In the absence of a credible case, Trump’s protectors are left with the “doubt is our product” strategy—create so much chaos that at least some portion of the population will conclude you just can’t figure out where the truth is. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It worked for tobacco—but only for a while. …
Edward Snowden Bashes Nunes: I Was More Careful With Government Secrets Than You Are
By Andrew Kirell
The Daily Beast (2/2/18)
Edward Snowden spoke out this week against the process in which House Republicans sought to release a memo full of classified government information.
Jake Laperruque, a lawyer for the Project on Government Oversight, tweeted Thursday how House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), who had once called Snowden a “traitor” for his 2013 leak of surveillance documents, was now acting recklessly with government disclosures.
“Journalists disclosing Snowden documents… would interact with the Intelligence Community prior to publication,” the surveillance expert explained. “They certainly didn’t oblige all their requests, but they made good-faith effort to hear concerns on why [the intelligence community] thought some stuff shouldn’t be public.”
Snowden concurred, writing: “I required the journalists who broke the 2013 domestic spying stories (as a condition of access) to talk with gov in advance of publication as an extraordinary precaution to prevent any risk of harm. Turns out our standard of care was higher than the actual Intel committee.” …
PETITION: Remove Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee
CREDO Action (2/4/18)
One of Donald Trump’s most loyal congressional lapdogs – House Intelligence Committee (the Committee) Chair Rep. Devin Nunes – is doing everything in his power to undermine both the congressional investigation and the parallel FBI investigation into Trump’s Russia ties.
On Friday, House Republicans released the so-called Nunes memo – a blatant attempt to smear Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation.1 As those who had seen the memo had asserted before its release, the so-called memo is really just Republican talking points making unsubstantiated claims to undermine the credibility of the FBI’s investigation.2 Earlier in the week, the FBI even issued an unprecedented statement publicly rebuking Nunes’s conspiracy-fueled “memo” that expressed “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”3
Thanks to the progressive movement’s activism, including the work of hundreds of thousands of CREDO members, Nunes supposedly stepped aside last year from running the House Russia investigation after sharing classified intelligence directly with the press and the White House. However, he is still the Committee’s chair and has been working to subvert its work in order to protect Donald Trump.4 If Paul Ryan really believes his own words that Congress is responsible for holding the executive branch accountable,5 he must now remove Nunes from the Committee.
It is clear that Trump and his cronies wanted to release the baseless Nunes “memo” because they hoped it would help build their narrative that the Mueller investigation is a witch-hunt with Trump as its target.6 We now know that Trump reportedly demanded that Mueller be fired last summer, and the only reason Mueller is still on the job is because White House counsel stood up to Trump.7 It seems that in lieu of outright firing, Trump and his lapdogs are doing everything they can to erode the public’s faith in the investigation and undermine Mueller’s independence.
Devin Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team, and his independence has been suspect for more than a year. But his latest actions go far and above stalling his committee’s investigation. News broke late Wednesday night that the memo Nunes sent to the White House was substantially different from the version the Committee voted to release.8 He is actively using his access to classified information to interfere in a separate independent investigation.
Nunes’ conspiracy theory-laden “memo” attracted major attention in part because thousands of Russian bots engaged on Twitter calling for the memo to be released.9 In any other era, the claims the memo reportedly makes would be laughable. The hoax memo from Nunes turned out to be a complete “joke and a sham” which “undermined its own reason for existing, providing political ammunition against the Russia investigation.”10 By dressing up fringe right-wing conspiracy theories as a “memo,” Nunes is trying to make these absurd attacks mainstream – with the ultimate goal of discrediting Rosenstein and eroding public faith in the independent FBI investigation.
Tell Paul Ryan and the rest of House Republican leadership: Immediately remove Rep. Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee.
When Republicans voted to release the memo, they also voted against allowing the minority report authored by Rep. Adam Schiff, which points out the flaws in Nunes’ narrative, to be released to members outside the Committee.11 Republicans in Congress might hope they can obfuscate, but if we make it clear we are paying attention and demand that they put the integrity of our democracy first, we can build pressure on them to act.
Demand that House Republican leaders immediately remove Rep. Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee.
- Zack Beauchamp, “The Nunes memo is a dud,” Vox, Feb. 2, 2018.
- Jeremy Stahl, “The Nunes Memo Is a Complete Flop,” Slate, Feb. 2, 2018.
- Ben Mathis-Lilley, “FBI Issues Statement Denouncing House Republican Russia Memo That Trump Has Promised to Release,” Slate, Jan. 31, 2018.
- Zach Beauchamp, “The real reason the Nunes memo matters,” Vox, Jan. 30, 2018.
- Phil Mattingly et al., “Ryan: Nunes memo should be released, members should separate memo from Mueller,” CNN, Jan. 30, 2018.
- Beauchamp, “The real reason the Nunes memo matters.”
- Kristen Welker and Phil Helsel “Trump wanted to fire Mueller in June but backed down when White House counsel threatened to quit,” NBC News, Jan. 26, 2018.
- John Bowden, “Schiff: Nunes gave Trump ‘secretly altered’ version of memo,” The Hill, Jan. 31, 2018.
- Ryan Sit, “Trump Caught on Hot Mic Saying he will ‘100 percent’ Release Nunes Memo, despite Justice Department Objections,” Newsweek, Jan. 31, 2018.
- Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman “The Nunes memo is out. It’s a joke and a sham.,” The Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2018.
- Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju, “House Intel Committee votes to release Nunes memo on FBI,” CNN, Jan. 30, 2018.