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Politics & Government

The Politics Behind The Nunes Memo


A controversial memo by House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes is out, and the spin is on. Most Republicans say the memo demonstrates bias and abuse at the FBI. Democrats say it's a malicious and misleading effort to undermine the investigation of the special counsel Robert Mueller. Ron Elving, senior editor and correspondent on the Washington Desk, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: How do you characterize it?

ELVING: Well, I'd call it a political document. It's meant to be catnip for people who want to believe that this whole business about Russian interference and collusion with elements of the Trump campaign is somehow bogus and can somehow just be made to go away. Now, the memo itself says that the FBI tried to get warrants to spy on Carter Page, who was an American citizen who advised the Trump campaign on foreign policy and that it based that bid on a dossier prepared by a British spy and paid for by Democrats.

Now, the memo leaves out a lot of facts about that dossier, but the most important thing is that the memo itself makes clear that the FBI had reasons to look at Carter Page all the way back to 2013 and other reasons to be looking at ties between Russian agents and the Trump campaign involving other people quite apart from the dossier. So the accusations of anti-Trump bias as the motive for the investigation at its very beginning are undercut by parts of the memo itself.

SIMON: So more bluster than bite?

ELVING: You know, it's quite clear that it is a cherry-picked narrative. But reading it makes you wonder if that's an insult to cherries.

SIMON: (Laughter) Which, after all, have many valuable antioxidants. Before it was released, a lot of Democrats said the result of releasing the memo would be catastrophic. Last night and today, many Democrats seem to be saying, is that all you got? Are you kidding?

ELVING: Well, for some, it's more a dud than a slam dunk. But at the same time, of course, the Democrats want to release their own memo - their critique memo - their response or rebuttal. And that's going to be the big focus when we get back here on Monday.

SIMON: Rod Rosenstein - long for his position in the Justice Department?

ELVING: You know, Rosenstein is in a more vulnerable position than Robert Mueller, the special counsel whom he appointed. He's not well-known the way Robert Mueller is. He doesn't have the long-standing reputation. So this is a situation where, if you undercut Rod Rosenstein, if he quits, or if he is fired, that gives President Trump the opportunity to replace him with somebody who would have the authority to fire Mueller. So it's potentially a bank shot.

SIMON: Is what the White House calls transparency an indication of what's really a grave and serious rift between the president and intelligence agencies, which are, after all, responsible for protecting the United States? At a time, those agencies say, the United States is under electronic attack and more from Russia and elsewhere.

ELVING: This question of what should be secret and what should be transparent in the government - it's been around a long time. The parties regularly switch sides on this question. The president himself has not been transparent about many, many things. But this much is certain - there can be no debate that the Russians are reaping benefits from their interference in elections around the Western world, including in Europe and the United States. And that continues today.

SIMON: The Dow dropped 666 points yesterday. Some people pointed to the biblical significance of those numbers. And we're less than a week from another shutdown deadline. President Trump says business gets him. They love him. Look at what the Dow has been doing. But was yesterday's slide an indication that the president's lack of good relations with the Democrats have a real cost?

ELVING: Possibly. But, you know, you have to see that drop, dizzying as it was, in the context of the even more dizzying increases we've seen in the Dow and other indexes in recent months. And now we see yields suddenly rising on Treasury bonds and the prospect of higher interest rates this year. So the bottom line - it just seems like some kind of adjustment might well have been overdue.

SIMON: Ron Elving, senior politics editor and correspondent, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.