Editorial: Stop the partisan war on FBI, Justice Department

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Published February 5
Updated February 5

The release of the Republicansí classified memo alleging wrongdoing by the Justice Department and the FBI in its investigation of a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump fell far short of the hype. But it furthered the presidentís unprecedented effort to undermine public credibility in the criminal justice system that is investigating Russian interference in the election. Congress should not continue to be complicit in the presidentís dangerous attack on federal law enforcement, and the special counselís investigation should continue to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Of course, Trump used the release of the memo to claim "complete vindication" and complained "the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on.íí The four-page memo does not clear the president or his campaign from any possible collusion with the Russiansí well-documented effort to influence the outcome of the election. In fact, it reveals several details to suggest the investigation began sooner and has been more deliberate than Trump would like Americans to believe.

For example, the memo focuses on evidence presented to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to win approval for electronic surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That order was sought in October 2016, but the memo notes the FBI investigation opened in late July 2016 after the agency received information about another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos. The memo also notes the FISA court renewed the warrants involving Page three times, which would have required law enforcement officials to show they were obtaining valuable evidence.

This is a partisan memo that lacks context and paints an incomplete picture. It discusses how the FISA warrants to target Page were based largely on information from a list of unproven allegations about Trump that were compiled by a former British intelligence agent paid by Democrats. But it is law enforcementís job to determine the veracity of allegations, and Democratic members of Congress say the dossier was only a small factor in the effort to obtain FISA warrants to surveil Page.

Transparency is important, but the release of this memo drafted for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee and ordered declassified by Trump has nothing to do with transparency. If the goal is to give Americans a more complete picture of the investigation, then the president should agree to declassify the Democratsí memo on the same issue. Since Trump allowed the Republican memo to be released, the FISA court also should agree to the New York Timesí request Monday to unseal secret documents related to the wiretapping of Page.

Selectively releasing the Republican memo is entirely about aiding Trumpís efforts to erode the integrity of the Justice Department and the FBI as the Russian investigation continues. It is about laying the groundwork to try to justify any foolish effort by the president to fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and clear the way to fire Mueller. That would spark a constitutional crisis, and as Sen. John McCain has warned, "The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests ó no partyís, no presidentís, only Putinís.íí

McCain is right. While Trump keeps tweeting, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other prominent Republicans should stop enabling his attacks on the federal law enforcement and intelligence community. Americans deserve to know the entire truth about the Russiansí efforts to influence the election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with that effort, not just the slanted version from a partisan memo. The only way to get a complete picture is for the Mueller investigation to continue unimpeded.