MEMBERS ONLY: The Nunes Memo Will Depend On Americans Being Confused By Surveillance Laws

by Bob Cesca

Two major news stories dropped today, so let’s cut right to the chase. 

First, we learned that Donald Trump apparently demanded that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pledge his loyalty to Trump, asking Rosenstein if he’s “on my team.” The meeting occurred this past December and, according to CNN, “Trump wanted to know where the special counsel’s Russia investigation was heading.” Here we are with yet another example of Trump attempting to obstruct justice by either pressuring or outright threatening nearly every federal law enforcement official who’s linked to the Trump-Russia affair.

Making matters worse, CNN also reported that Peter Strzok, who I covered in my Banter M column last week, was one of the chief architects of reopening the case against Hillary Clinton late in the campaign and who also helped compose the James Comey letter released just days prior to the election — the letter about Clinton and Huma Abedin that some analysts suggest swung the election to Trump at the eleventh hour. 

Whether it convinced enough voters to switch from Clinton to Trump at the last minute is, as far as I’m concerned, still up for debate (the polls were already narrowing), but the fact that Strzok was deeply involved indicates that he clearly wasn’t the anti-Trump quisling that Trump and his disciples are accusing him of being. In fact, I’m sure Strzok has been summarily added to Hillary Clinton’s personal shit-list.

Once again, another Trump line of attack is spattering back in his face. It’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last. 

Indeed, the Nunes memo is about to explode in Trump’s balled-up hands like an M80 with a too-short fuse. At least that’s what ought to happen. Whether it’ll actually detonate depends greatly on how rapidly the fact-checkers and intelligence community experts can scour the memo for omissions and misreadings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance law, or FISA. 

It shouldn’t be too terribly difficult to dissect the memo given that it’s reportedly only four pages long — four pages of gibberish likely written in coordination with Trump is supposed to evidently send shockwaves through the corridors of power at the FBI and Justice Department — four pages that were hyperbolically described this week by former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka as being “100 times worse” than the reasons for the American Revolution. 

Again, there’s a big “if” here. If the experts debunk it quickly enough, the public will likely go along. If not, there’s a very real chance for the memo to be taken at face value. There’s also the distinct possibility that the deliberately scrambled, twisted, amateurish content of the memo will confuse people enough to go along with the Trump-Republican narrative. This is what Fox News does all the time: spreading the facts around in a way that forces casual viewers to give up and to go along with the superficial reading of… whatever.

This confused-thus-compliant reaction is more or less what happened nearly five years ago during the Summer of Snowden. 

The reporting about Edward Snowden’s stolen cache of top secret NSA documents was accepted without much critical thinking by Congress or cable news because, yes, laws related to the intelligence community are — surprise — complicated. Nothing Snowden revealed turned out to be against the law and any counterintelligence activities were carried out by NSA with a legal warrant from the FISA Court, facts that journalists like Glenn Greenwald buried at least 12 paragraphs into various bombshell articles throughout the Summer of 2013 and into 2014.

Generally speaking, surveillance of American citizens is creepy, no doubt. For example, we were justifiably alarmed during the Bush years when American citizens were surveilled without warrants. But that practice was ended with the expiration of the program and the passage of the FISA Amendments Act in 2008. Additionally, the racist and unconstitutional COINTELPRO operations 50 years ago were also massive violations of civil liberties.

However, there are American citizens who, due to a wide array of nefarious activities, become targets of counterintelligence investigations, just as any other criminal being pursued by everyone from local cops on up to the FBI. Amid the volumes of Snowden documents as well as contained within the reporting that attempted to interpret the files, we learned that there are layers upon layers of civil liberties oversight in place, be it the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), the FISA Court, the inspectors general within each intelligence agency, and so forth. Likewise, the process of acquiring a warrant to conduct surveillance on an American citizen requires impeccable evidentiary documentation and regular renewals of warrants. Miles of red tape.

Contrary to the substance of the law, the Nunes memo will likely tell us that Carter Page was illegally wiretapped by the FBI in an obvious violation of his civil liberties and done so as part of a subversive plot to undermine the Trump campaign. In order to achieve this conclusion, the surveillance activities cited in the memo will be spun in a way that makes legal collection of signals intelligence, or SIGINT, linked to Page seem scandalously outrageous — but only if we know nothing about the law. And frankly, I’m highly confident that congressional Republicans will flummox the details of the FISA law which, by the way, they pushed for and recently reauthorized with the signature of President Trump. I’m also certain that cable news (minus, of course, Maddow and other Normals) will leave nuance off-the-air as well, given the complexities of the law and the drive-by nature of modern viewers. (Meanwhile, you can expect Greenwald-contrarian types on the left to pile-on with the Republicans and the Trump White House because this is what they do.)

Ultimately, though, don’t be fooled. The truth will reveal that Carter Page (et al) was operating as an agent of a foreign government, Russia, while acting in cahoots with Russian spies to scramble the election. This will entirely justify the surveillance of Page by the FBI. We’ll also learn that Rod Rosenstein’s process, along other investigatory actions by federal officials, fell entirely within the boundaries of the law, no matter what you might think of the law itself, regardless of whether you perceive it to be constitutional. The law is the law. We can’t and shouldn’t condemn anyone for acting within the law, should we? If we’d prefer to change the law, that’s a separate and valid discussion.

But let’s never forget who we’re talking about here. This is about Donald Trump working in coordination with Russia to steal the election. This is a president who lies almost as often as he breathes. This is a president who will stop at nothing to shield himself from accountability for this and other crimes against the American people. He will do anything, regardless of whether it’s legal or constitutional.

When the truth about the Nunes memo is revealed, Trump will have inadvertently confessed that at least one of his campaign advisers is an agent of a hostile foreign power. And the only way we’ll get down to the truth is if we’re all prepared to fight for it. 

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