One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, the Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues.
We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and DOJ have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four page memo alleging abuses of FISA spying processes during the 2016 election. This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material.
The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.” GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.”
This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.”
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Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself. The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, as Bart Gellman amply documented, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes – or anyone else – are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.
President Trump and congressional Republicans have the power, working together or separately, to immediately declassify all the relevant information. And if indeed the GOP’s explosive claims are accurate – if, as HPSCI member Steve King, R.-Iowa., says, this is “worse than Watergate” — they obviously have every incentive to get it into the public’s hands as soon as possible. Indeed, one could argue that they have the duty to do so.
On the other hand, if the GOP’s claims are false or significantly misleading – if they are, with the deepest cynicism imaginable, simply using these crucial issues to whip up their base or discredit the Muller investigation, or exaggerating or making claims that lack any evidentiary support, or trying to have the best of all worlds by making explosive claims about the memo but never having to prove their truth — then they will either not release the memo or they will release it without any supporting documentation, making it impossible for Americans to judge its accuracy for themselves.