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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

From the Republican perspective, maybe the worst thing about the dueling Nunes/Schiff memos regarding the FBI’s Russia investigation is what they revealed about the intelligence of the combatants. Following the Fox News-amplified thunder of the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, what strikes me now about the Nunes effort is how breathtakingly dumb it was.

Call me an elitist if it makes you feel better. But if you were being investigated by a prosecutor as experienced and relentless as special counsel Robert Mueller, you definitely wouldn’t want Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) as your lawyer.

By explicitly confirming that the FBI probe of the Trump campaign’s dalliance with Russia began in direct response to staffer George Papadopoulos’s drunken bragging to an Australian diplomat in June 2016, the Nunes memo unintentionally rebutted its own basic argument.

Papadopoulos’s guilty plea confirms the investigators’ judgement.

But no, the so-called “dodgy dossier” compiled by British intelligence agent Christopher Steele didn’t jump-start the FBI  — which never saw his work until September. As Steele, a veteran operative with a sterling reputation in Great Britain, stated all along, some of it was “raw intelligence” that might never be confirmed.

Not that he’s been proven wrong.

Indeed, now that we have Rep. Adam Schiff’s memo rebutting Nunes’s hackwork, it’s clear that many of Steele’s findings were exactly on target. Specifically, Steele reported that International Man of Mystery and former Trump volunteer Carter Page was told during a Moscow trip in July 2016 that the Kremlin had a) collected allegedly compromising information on Hillary Clinton, and b) strongly favored Trump’s election.

Although Page publicly denied meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, he also sent the Trump campaign a memo detailing his “private conversation” with the man. Leaks of stolen Democratic National Committee emails via Wikileaks (remember how Trump “loved” Wikileaks during the campaign?) began three days later.

Given those facts, supplemented by independent FBI sources, why should it matter who financed Steele’s investigation? Or what the four GOP-appointed FISA judges who approved surveillance of Page were told about it?

Evidence is evidence in a court of law.

Because, see, that’s the second big problem with the Nunes memo that Sean Hannity predicted would lead to the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton and half of the “Deep State” operatives of the FBI: its sheer, staggering dishonesty.

Contrary to Nunes and his Fox News enablers, the FBI did not conceal the partisan origins of the Steele dossier from the FISA court. Schiff’s rebuttal directly quotes the warrant application stating that the British investigator had been hired indirectly by a political opponent “looking for information that could be used to discredit [Trump’s] campaign.”

By October 2016, when this hearing took place, Trump had only one serious political opponent. Naming her was as unnecessary there as it is here, and might even have been called prejudicial. Besides, FISA judges had the authority to demand more information had they needed it.

Once again, evidence is evidence in a court of law: The FBI had suspected Carter Page of being a Russian agent since 2013.

Indeed, the Schiff memo perhaps inadvertently reveals (in a footnote) that by September 2016 fully five Trump campaign officials were under FBI scrutiny. As of today three have already pled guilty. Page hasn’t yet been charged with anything, which if I were on Team Trump, might make me nervous. Over the years, he’s probably learned the folly of lying to the FBI.

Political stupidity is one thing. But easily exposed dishonesty is dumber still. To anybody smart enough to take shelter from the rain, the Nunes memo and the choreographed #ReleaseTheMemo campaign lie in ruins. Of course that excludes roughly one-third of American voters, who believe anything Fox News says. But two-thirds don’t, and their suspicions can only have been further aroused.

And then there’s this guy: “The Democrat memo response on government surveillance abuses is a total political and legal BUST,” President Trump tweeted the other day. “Just confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!” Characteristically empty bluster.

Meanwhile. here’s just one of Trump’s many problems: Back about the time Papadopoulos and Page were told that the Kremlin had the goods on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jr. received an email from a pal representing a Russian oligarch the Trumps had befriended during the 2013 Moscow Miss Universe contest.

The message proposed a meeting to share “dirt” on Clinton that would be provided as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

“If it’s what you say it is, I love it,” Don Jr. responded without hesitation.

The meeting took place at Trump Tower on June 16, 2016. Supposedly the senior Trump was kept completely in the dark, presumably because everybody knew he had no interest in dirt about Hillary.

Nevertheless, if I were the president’s lawyer, I’d do everything in my power to prevent his testifying about these matters under oath.