It is impossible to say — at least honestly — that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein failed to do his level best to protect democratic norms and national security. The Washington Post reports:
“Top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea Monday to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing a memo alleging abuses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to people briefed on the meeting.
“Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public, those people said. Rosenstein was joined in the meeting at the White House by FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.”
Rosenstein is acting like a man unburdened by the fear of being fired. Whatever President Donald Trump will do, Trump will do. In the meantime, Rosenstein seems determined to keep the Russia investigation on course and to prevent not only a self-inflicted wound in divulging classified material but also to save what is left of the oversight relationship between the House and the Justice Department, which the memo’s author, Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican from California, has gone a long way in destroying.
If Trump releases the memo now, it will be clear for all who care to see that he is not looking out for national security, but for himself — at the cost of discrediting the Justice Department and the FBI. Perhaps Special Counsel Robert Mueller will include such an action in his bill of particulars against Trump.
Trump makes everything worse, of course. The Post further reports:
“The White House is broadcasting mixed messages as aides attempt to qualify President Trump’s Tuesday night statement that he would ’100 percent’ authorize the public release of a GOP memo of alleged surveillance abuses at the FBI and Department of Justice.
“‘There are no current plans to release the House Intelligence Committee’s memo,’ White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on CNN Wednesday morning, noting that Trump had not ‘seen or been briefed’ on the memo’s contents before he made those comments Tuesday night.
“But later Wednesday morning, White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly told Fox News radio that the memo will ‘be released here pretty quick,’ just as soon as the White House’s national security lawyers finish ‘slicing and dicing and looking at it so that we know what it means.’”
Shorter: Trump makes a mockery of any review process. He doesn’t care if the memo’s release damages national intelligence. What’s more, Nunes might have consulted — indeed, colluded — with the White House in drafting the memo. (“The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee refused to answer when a colleague asked him if he had coordinated his incendiary surveillance memo with the White House, The Daily Beast has learned.”) This would be such a ludicrous, ham-handed effort to interfere clumsily and blatantly with the investigation that it might actually be true. We’re talking Nunes and Trump, after all.
While Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have not lifted a finger to stop Nunes, Senate Republicans are ever so slightly slapping down Nunes. BuzzFeed reports:
“This weekend, as Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee prepared to use their majority to try to declassify a four-page memo purporting to show FBI abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Republicans on the Senate committee used television appearances to echo warnings from the Department of Justice about the risks of releasing the memo. They also pointed to the bipartisan success of their own committee in investigating Russian interference during the 2016 election.
“‘One of the problems with the House investigation is it’s been very partisan,’ Republican Sen. Susan Collins told CNN. ‘In contrast, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Sens. [Richard] Burr and [Mark] Warner, have worked together, and I think that’s a far better approach.’”
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, another Republican member of the committee, also appeared on CNN Sunday. When asked whether the memo saga in the House could be chalked up to partisan politics, Lankford said, “We’ll let them work that out.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr practically sneered at Nunes. (“I don’t think that anybody sees similarities between how we proceed and how they have.”) Lankford, a staunch Republican, was quite articulate in setting out the damage that Nunes is doing:
“Any time any information comes out that at any point you can look at and say, there are sources or methods there that you’re going to protect long-term, it’s very important that everyone has a chance to be able to look at it and say, ‘we need to delete this’ because just an individual reading it may look at it and say, ‘I don’t see a problem with that’, but someone in the FBI’s going to immediately say, ‘I know how that information was gathered’ and the person that it was gathered from will know how that is. And so it lets out information we don’t want out.”
That is a good start, but if the president proceeds to release the memo over the objections of the Justice Department and the FBI, the Senate Intelligence Committee should rebuke the move on a bipartisan basis and issue a rebuttal (ranking Democrat Adam Schiff apparently has a 10-page memo).
Criticism is good, but action is better. The Senate has operated in a bipartisan way and has credibility with the American people. It should use that credibility in an effort to deter further stunts and to call out Nunes for collaborating with the White House in a smear campaign.