Paul Ryan defends release of GOP memo

House Speaker Paul Ryan, joined at left by Majority Whip Steve Scalise, answers questions at a news conference Jan. 30 as he defends a vote by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation. Ryan told reporters that "there may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals." PHOTO BY ASSOCIATED PRESS

J. Scott Applewhite

Many people are chiming in on what it means for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to make public the GOP memo asserting that the FBI is politicized against President Trump. The memo alleges that the FBI abused its surveillance authority and showed bias, though Democrats counter that the memo is misleading.

The Justice Department, the FBI and the intelligence community opposed release of the memo, arguing that it could reveal important security information. Democrats said that the memo is an attempt to undercut public support for the Russia investigation. Both the FBI and Democrats said the memo is misleading because it omits important information and contains inaccuracies.

Given the incendiary and constitutional nature of the showdown, many people called on House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, to replace the Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, with someone else. Instead, Ryan said that the memo is an example of Congress doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight.

John McLaughlin, a former deputy director for intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency, who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, called the memo a “complete perversion of the oversight process.” He pointed out that if impartial oversight were really the goal, it could be done best by studying the relevant information instead of grandstanding publicly, and if it seemed necessary for some reason to make it public, the most bipartisan way to do it would be to make sure that both Democratic and Republican memos were put into the public sphere.

But clearly, Republicans are engaging in little pretense of impartiality. Trump called the purported FBI bias a "disgrace" and said certain people should be "ashamed of themselves." The single-minded partisanship of the Republican House leadership will be the prevailing context in which the memo is seen by all but the most steadfast Republican supporters. 

It should be noted that while the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the GOP memo, it voted against releasing a counter-memo written by the committee's Democrats, although efforts to reverse that decision were ongoing. 

What remains mystifying is why the House leader of the law-and-order party is so willing to support a mendacious president in open conflict with his own (Republican) FBI director and attorney general, or why he is supporting Nunes, who was already found last year to have collaborated inappropriately with the White House. Why are Republican leaders willing to taint their personal reputations on behalf of this president or Nunes?

It was good to see that not all Republicans are on board with the GOP effort to undermine the FBI's Russia probe. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and member of the Intelligence Committee, tweeted: "As I have said repeatedly, I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not — in any way — discredit his investigation." 

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Americans who care about democracy must stand up for the probity of the FBI’s leadership, to draw a line in the sand opposing the firing of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, whose integrity has long been celebrated, or FBI Director Christopher Wray, or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The effort by Nunes to denigrate an investigation with a one-sided memo and the complicity of Ryan in his doing so should alter the public’s understanding of the Russia investigation. The public is smart enough to see the desperate measures being taken to protect the president and will recognize that the pattern of obstruction speaks volumes about Republican leadership’s loss of credibility and integrity.

Republicans may indeed alter public understanding, but not in the way they intend.

Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. 

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