For what critics are denouncing as blatantly partisan reasons that have nothing to do with concerns about mass surveillance and everything to do with protecting President Donald Trump from an active investigation, House Republicans voted on Monday to release a secret memo that purports to show the FBI abused its power in spying on a Trump campaign adviser while blocking a Democratic report which explains how the GOP memo was "cherry-picked" from underlying intelligence material.
"The Nunes memo on FISA surveillance of a Trump adviser should be made public—but the Schiff report must be made public at the same time. Trump's supporters can't be allowed to cherry-pick their way to undermining the Mueller investigation."
Though Democrats have come under fire from journalists and privacy advocates for their "supine" faith in the benevolence of the FBI—an institution that has a long history of appalling criminality, sanctioned by both parties—the ACLU wrote in a series of tweets after Monday's vote that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and others in his party are correct to be skeptical of GOP motives, especially given their refusal to release the intelligence underlying the four-page memo.
If the memo, drafted by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), is ultimately released, Democrats have a "duty" to "read the Schiff report and all other underlying documents on the House floor," the ACLU argued.
The Nunes memo on FISA surveillance of a Trump adviser should be made public—but the Schiff report must be made public at the same time. Trump's supporters can't be allowed to cherry-pick their way to undermining the Mueller investigation. https://t.co/V6DoGR3E2Q
— ACLU (@ACLU) January 30, 2018
If the Nunes memo is released, Congressman Schiff and other members of Congress should read the Schiff report and all other underlying documents on the House floor—just like Senator Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the record in 1971. It's their constitutional right—and duty.
— ACLU (@ACLU) January 30, 2018
According to the narrative peddled by the GOP and its partners in right-wing media, the memo the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release Monday night demonstrates that the Justice Department and the FBI conducted unlawful surveillance of Trump's presidential campaign, which they claim discredits the FBI's Russia investigation.
"The House Intelligence Committee, and the entire congressional oversight apparatus, needs systematic reform."
But civil libertarians have consistently argued that Nunes cannot be trusted and that the fight over the memo's release has been more about partisan political maneuvering than transparency for the good of the public.
The fact that Republicans and Democrats "came together to push into law the privacy-destroying FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act just a few weeks back" demonstrates that the struggle over the Republican memo "is about who has power, not protecting the American people against the inappropriate exercise of that power," the advocacy group Demand Progress said in a statement on Monday.
"Rep. Nunes is hell-bent on protecting President Trump at all costs, and Rep. Schiff's supine deference to the intelligence agencies undermines Congress's role as a check on the executive branch," added Demand Progress policy director Daniel Schuman. "The House Intelligence Committee, and the entire congressional oversight apparatus, needs systematic reform."
As Glenn Greenwald and Jon Schwartz argued in a piece for The Intercept earlier this month, Republicans and Trump could easily defeat these allegations of partisan opportunism by either using their constitutional abilities to make public the intelligence behind the memo or leaking the information to the press.
If they fail to do so, Greenwald and Schwartz concluded, they will prove themselves to be "shameless frauds."