The right-wing media machine has been hyperventilating about it for weeks: the secret memo, prepared under the direction of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, that aims to show that the Justice Department and the FBI cannot be trusted to conduct an unbiased investigation of Donald Trump. Yesterday Republicans on the Intelligence committee voted unanimously to release the memo. In doing so, they spurned a Justice Department warning that the memo, containing classified information, could compromise intelligence gathering methods and sources if released without prior extensive review and redaction. The Republicans’ action is extraordinary: members of congressional intelligence committees are entrusted with highly sensitive information, including classified information, and normally take that responsibility very seriously. Clearly, these particular intelligence committee members have decided to subordinate that responsibility to their desire to protect Donald Trump.
This would be extraordinary and worrisome even if the memo in question were a powerfully compelling document, marshaling evidence and logic to point to an inexorable conclusion. It is not. According to reliable sources, the memo is basically garbage—a tendentious effort to connect dots that aren’t even on the same page. Yes, I will admit that the “reliable sources” I am citing are Democrats—Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff and his colleague Eric Swalwell. (I don’t think they’ve used the word “garbage,” but that is basically what they have said.) Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner, who hasn’t seen the memo but has read the intelligence on which it is supposedly based, has said that there is no “there” there. I trust these men, while I wouldn’t trust for a millisecond Nunes, a partisan hack who is clearly more dedicated to Trump than to the truth.
The release of the memo will provide new fodder for Fox and the rest of the right-wing media. It will serve the right’s campaign to distract from and discredit the Mueller investigation. It may also help the Trump administration in its efforts to purge the Justice Department and the FBI. This is all very bad, but the crowning, truly mind-boggling outrage is that the Republicans also voted to prohibit publication of the rebuttal that the Democrats have prepared to the Republicans’ garbage memo. Think of it: the Republicans have said, in effect, “We get to put out our side of the story, and no other side is allowed.” This reeks of disdain for the fundamental democratic value of free and open debate. It reflects the authoritarian propensities of the man in the White House.
What is most alarming of all is that the Republicans on the committee took these steps unanimously—not a single holdout for honor and decency. I don’t know much about this particular group of Republicans, but I have no reason to believe they are unrepresentative of their party colleagues in the House. So, I think we have to see this vote as very significant. It takes to a new level the marriage of Trumpism and the Republican Party. If anybody is counting on a significant number of Republicans, when the time comes, to stand up on principle and for the rule of law against a lawless president, forget it. These are not honorable people. They are people for whom partisanship, ideology and political advantage take precedence over the preservation of the integrity of our democracy.
I say this fully aware that we’re not supposed to say things like this. Another fundamental democratic norm is tolerance and openness to diversity of opinion. We’re not supposed to demonize our political opponents or attribute base motives to them. We’re supposed to assume (or at least pretend to assume) that they are no less dedicated to the common good than we are. Sorry, but no–there are limits to tolerance. The Republican Party today is a horror show, no less than its president. This has been a long time coming. Trump is the product of a decades long evolution of the Republican Party, and he marks its culmination.