After the House Intelligence Committee voted this week to release a Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured us that the White House would be evenhanded. “As stated many times,” Sanders said, “the administration will follow the same process and procedure with this memorandum from the minority as it did last week, when it received the memorandum from the majority.”
That is simply not what happened.
The White House announced Friday night (translation: news-dump o’clock) that it would not immediately approve the release of the Democratic memo. It instead instructed Democrats to work with the Justice Department to adjust the memo so that it could be released publicly.
It’s entirely possible this won’t make a huge difference in the memo’s content and impact. But let’s be clear: This is not how the White House treated the Nunes memo.
When it was confronted with a decision about whether to release that memo, it did so over the objections of the FBI. The FBI publicly objected to the Nunes memo’s release, suggesting the document left out key facts and was misleading. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in an extraordinary public rebuke.
And even before all of that — and before he had even reviewed the memo — Trump and the White House made clear they would release the GOP memo. Trump told a Republican lawmaker after his State of the Union address Jan. 30 that he would “100 percent” release the memo.
In this case, by contrast, the White House wasn’t nearly so eager to commit to a memo’s release and is now suggesting it is bowing to concerns from the very same federal law enforcement entities whose objections it disregarded last time. It will argue that it is just handling classified information with care, but it did not demonstrate that level of care last week when it forced through the Nunes memo.
That memo sought to argue that law enforcement had abused its surveillance capabilities in the monitoring of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. It argued that the application to monitor Page via a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant misleadingly failed to disclose that evidence used from the Steele dossier had been paid for by Democrats.
The Nunes memo has been widely criticized, and Democrats have argued that a key claim — that then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said the Steele dossier was vital to the FISA application — simply isn’t true. (The memo doesn’t directly quote McCabe’s comments, which came in a closed-door Intelligence Committee hearing but instead paraphrases him.) The memo also seemed to undermine its own claims by pointing out that the Russia investigation began months before the Steele dossier was used in the FISA application. Despite this, some Republicans have suggested that the Steele dossier was a predicate for the investigation — a suggestion aimed at undermining the broader Russia probe that is currently imperiling the White House.
Having said all of this, could it simply be that the Democratic memo contains more sensitive classified information than the Nunes memo did? Sure. (Although it bears noting that Intelligence Committee Republicans did unanimously vote for its release.) Is it possible there will be only minor changes? Sure. And it would sure seem that the Justice Department would want to make certain that the Democratic memo still does a good job countering some key claims from the Nunes memo, given how federal law enforcement’s reputation is on the line.
But with all of this happening behind close doors, we simply don’t know. What we do know is that the White House didn’t treat these memos the same, as it promised it would.