Donald Trump is now in open war with those investigating his campaign
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Donald Trump is now in open war with those investigating his campaign

Anyone following the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia will learn next to nothing from reading the so-called Nunes memo, and yet its release is significant, if only because it demonstrates how far the Republican Party is willing to debase American democracy in support of Donald Trump, and how weaponised conspiracy-mongering has crept from the fringes to the heart of American politics.

The memo is named for Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that is ostensibly conducting its own investigation into the Russia allegations. Nunes is a loyal Trump soldier who made his name during the endless Congressional investigations into the Benghazi scandal that found absolutely no wrongdoing on behalf of Hillary Clinton, but nonetheless served its purpose admirably.

Former FBI Director James Comey.

Former FBI Director James Comey.

Photo: Alex Brandon

"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping," the congressman Kevin McCarthy told Fox News in a moment of inadvertent candour.

Nunes later served on Trump's transition team and since Trump has been in office Nunes has used his position on the House Committee to hamper and discredit the collusion investigations.

"The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests": Senator John McCain.

"The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests": Senator John McCain.

Photo: Andrew Harrer
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Nunes had the memo drafted by staff relying on information gathered by the committee, some of which was classified. Broadly, the memo alleges that the collusion investigation is a politically motivated witch-hunt against Trump by conspirators in the FBI and Department of Justice, and that the FBI is engaged in a cover-up of its own political motivations.

Specifically it alleges that FBI investigators used the so-called Steele Dossier – opposition research financed first by Republican and then by Democratic opponents of Trump – in order to an obtain a warrant to conduct covert surveillance of a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.This, the memo's Republican champions argue, is proof the investigation is politically tainted.

The problem is that while the investigators might have used the Steele Dossier, it was far from the only evidence they had gathered and used, and given that the rest of the evidence remains classified, it is impossible for the investigators, the FBI and the Justice Department to defend the integrity of their work.

Against the recommendation of these bodies and intelligence services, Trump nevertheless ordered that the memo be declassified and released on Friday.

Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: Devin Nunes.

Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: Devin Nunes.

Photo: AP

In a statement the FBI has responded that it has "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy".

When you get into the detail of the story though, you can miss the significance.

Donald Trump and his allies are attacking key American institutions in order to discredit an investigation into foreign interference in a presidential election.

Donald Trump and his allies are attacking key American institutions in order to discredit an investigation into foreign interference in a presidential election.

Photo: Andrew Harnik

Donald Trump and his allies are attacking key American institutions in order to discredit an investigation into foreign interference in a presidential election. They are aligning themselves with Russia in a conflict with the Department of Justice.

As Senator John McCain, one of the last Republican holdouts against Trump, put it in a furious statement: "In 2016, the Russian government engaged in an elaborate plot to interfere in an American election and undermine our democracy.

"The latest attacks against the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests ― no party's, no President's, only Putin's.

"The American people deserve to know all the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded … If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him."

As a result of the Russia probe Trump has so far sacked an FBI director, James Comey, and forced out a deputy director, Andrew McCabe. A campaign is building among Trump allies to have the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sacked. Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is leading the Russia investigation, was appointed by Rosenstein and reports to him. Asked whether he had faith in Rosenstein over the weekend, Trump responded; "You figure that one out."

These transparent attempts to end or influence the investigation by Trump have rightly earned him comparisons to the crook Richard Nixon, who ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, prompting the resignations of the attorney-general and deputy attorney-general, an incident that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

But there is a key difference between the Watergate and the Russia scandal.

Nixon was investigated not only by an energised news media, and not just by a special prosecutor and the Department of Justice, but eventually by patriotic Republicans in committees in Congress.

It may well be that there was no collusion by Trump's campaign, or that if there was it may be that Trump was unaware of it. But Trump's GOP, blithely elevating its political concerns over its nation's interests, is so far determined that Americans should never find out either way.