The Memo: Nunes ‘bombshell’ fails to move debate

The Memo: Nunes ‘bombshell’ fails to move debate
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The GOP memo alleging FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) misdeeds, emanating from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesOn The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal GOP tax writer introduces bill to reduce capital gains taxes Nunes used political donations for K in NBA tickets, winery tours, Vegas trips: report MORE (R-Calif.), has not proved to be the game-changer that some of President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE’s most ardent supporters had hoped for.

Even before the memo was released last Friday, media reports suggested that even some figures within the White House considered the document underwhelming. That judgment seems to have been borne out, as the memo has begun to fade from the headlines with the political landscape not fundamentally altered.

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“I don’t think it is the bombshell it was billed as being,” said Joyce White Vance, a former United States attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

Other experts in the field argue that the memo has actually helped the FBI and DOJ. 

For example, it stated that the initial impetus for opening a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia was not the disputed dossier prepared by a former British spy, Christopher Steele.

Steele was employed by Fusion GPS, which was in turn being paid in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE’s campaign. But the probe had been opened because of separate suggestions of Russian meddling emanating from former Trump campaign adviser George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosWife of Papadopoulos interviews with House Intel Dems Mueller probing Roger Stone following Russian hacker indictment: report Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback MORE, according to the Nunes memo, though Steele approached the FBI around the same time.

The memo “helps the FBI and the DOJ rather than advance the conspiracy theory that is being advanced by Nunes,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a former assistant attorney general who served in senior law enforcement positions under Republican and Democratic presidents.

Gurulé also argued that the broader narrative being advanced by the president and his loyalists — in essence, that there was a plot in intelligence circles to bring him down — was “irrational, illogical and laughable.”

Trump is not backing away from his charges, however. Shortly after the memo first became public he wrote on Twitter: “This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on….This is an American disgrace!”

At Wednesday’s media briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The president feels vindicated because he feels like the Russia investigation has been a politically motivated witch hunt for the last year, and the memo clearly vindicates the president’s position that there was political bias.”

Several Republicans have dissented from that assessment, including Reps. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyWill Congress ever hold our federal agencies accountable for contempt? Dem lawmaker calls on House to subpoena American translator from Trump-Putin meeting The Hill's Morning Report — Trump isolated and denounced after Putin meeting MORE (S.C.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans GOP lawmaker: Trump is being manipulated by Putin The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE (Texas), who are not among Trump’s most frequent GOP critics. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanInterior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election MORE (R-Wis.) had also stated even before the Nunes memo was released that it did not “impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general [Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Rosenstein warns of growing cyber threat from Russia, other foreign actors MORE].”

That leaves the president still facing into the crosshairs of a possible interview with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s team. 

Trump has previously said he is willing to be interviewed by Mueller. As recently as late January, he told reporters at the White House, “I’m looking forward to it, actually.” But The New York Times reported earlier this week that his legal team had advised him against agreeing to such an encounter.

At Tuesday’s media briefing, Sanders refused to be drawn on whether Trump would ultimately agree to provide testimony to Mueller.

Trump critics argue that his hesitancy will only further fuel suspicions.

“I think there are a lot of independent voters who are a little exhausted in some ways by this whole thing,” said Republican consultant and Trump critic Rick Wilson. “They don’t love this being the centerpiece every single day. 

“But I don’t think Donald Trump gets a whole lot of benefit of the doubt about whether he’s obstructing justice because the more he talks, the more it seems odd. ‘Why are you so angry? Why did you want to get rid of Bob Mueller?’ ”

Nunes has promised further revelations probing the behavior of other arms of government, including the State Department. And some loyalists for the president continue to insist that the Mueller probe is “intractably infected with bias,” as Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGOP lawmaker criticizes calls for Trump's Russian interpreter to testify Key GOP lawmaker throws cold water on Rosenstein impeachment GOP lawmaker regrets appearing on Alex Jones's radio show MORE (R-Fla.) told The Hill earlier this week. 

The one significant poll taken since the memo’s release made uncomfortable reading for Trump supporters.

The Quinnipiac University poll, released on Tuesday, found that 53 percent of voters believe that Trump has attempted to “derail or obstruct” the Russia probe, as just 41 percent say he had not. The margin among independent voters was even wider, at 56 percent to 37 percent. 

“The ‘earth-shattering’ memo has failed to shatter the earth,” Wilson said.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.