'Release the memo' — let's stop pretending that Democrats are the defenders of the FBI

The collective amnesia that we are currently standing witness to is astonishing — even by Washington’s uber-hypocritical standards.

Democrats are suddenly the political party that stands with the FBI.

Yep, you heard that right. They now also believe passionately in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court-sanctioned spying on U.S. citizens. And they are steadfastly cautioning patience when it comes to releasing a potentially damaging memo that Republicans who have seen it purport contains revelations of embarrassing and dangerous governmental misconduct that may have influenced an election. 

And while Republicans certainly don’t have clean hands in the refuse pile currently masquerading as “bipartisan cooperation” on Capitol Hill, Democrats have taken pious sanctimony and hypocrisy to heights heretofore unreached.

Well, at least since candidate Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Trump hits Biden as 'disrespectful' to Obama MORE referred to George W. Bush as “unpatriotic” and “irresponsible” for adding $4 trillion to our national debt.

But the usual fissure between Republicans and Democrats has eroded into a chasm. And it perfectly mirrors our divided nation.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE certainly hasn’t succeeded in, or even really attempted to mend, the fracture. His inflammatory rhetoric, mean-spirited “fighting back” and failure to find national common ground has led to the #Resistance colliding squarely with #MAGA in ugly eruptions on social media and in zealous counterprotesters confronting intransigent protesters in a city near you.

But nowhere is it more brazenly on display than in the room where meets the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This committee is composed of members from the two bitterly opposed political parties in D.C. and convenes to discuss oversight matters related to the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, branches of the U.S. military, the FBI, et al.

California Republican and committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesTrump pushing to declassify document disputing intel findings on Russia: report Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 Democrat Arballo gains on Nunes: internal poll MORE heads a Republican majority that just voted to release a controversial report, a four-page document that has made the word “memo” ubiquitous worldwide.

Nunes has promised that the memo contains explosive details of wrongdoing within the upper echelons of the FBI and Justice Department in the securing of judicial permission to conduct overhears of Americans.

His minority chair counterpart, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (D-Calif.), has taken a predictably opposite view of the memo’s relevance, downplaying its significance and fretting over the potential revelation of “sources and methods” which he warns will harm the intelligence community. 

He has drafted his own competing memo that apparently refutes the Nunes version.

But Schiff’s colleagues, like Reps. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: Election integrity dominates as Nov. 3 nears Tim Scott invokes Breonna Taylor, George Floyd in Trump convention speech Sunday shows preview: Republicans gear up for national convention, USPS debate continues in Washington MORE (R-S.C.) and Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingDemocrats lead in 3 of 4 Iowa House races: poll Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it MORE (R-Iowa), have charged that the official committee version will be “embarrassing to Adam Schiff” and be “deeper than Watergate.”

Democrats countered by siding with FBI Director Christopher Wray, whose agency released a statement opposing the memo’s release, citing “material omissions” that may “impact the memo’s accuracy.” Nunes, of course, denounced the director’s objections as “spurious.”

So, both sides have stubbornly dug in. But with the GOP holding the majority — elections have consequences, as the 44th POTUS once advised Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorSpanberger's GOP challenger raises over .8 million in third quarter The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida hangs in the balance Eric Cantor teams up with former rival Dave Brat in supporting GOP candidate in former district MORE — the Nunes memo has been cleared for takeoff by the White House, and we anticipate its availability maybe as soon as later today.

Buckle your seatbelts, folks. This should get interesting.

But lest we forget in the cacophony of partisan bickering and voyeuristic anticipation, we have definitely seen this play before. Only in the “old school” version, roles have been reversed, and occurs the standard regression to the mean.

It would be so trite and cliché to mention the New York Times and Washington Post and their reverential Fourth Estate treatment of classified documents during the latter stages of the Vietnam War. Liberal Democrats exulted when the newspapers succeeded in obtaining and publishing portions of the Pentagon Papers, the explosive study of what led us into, and kept us engaged in, the Vietnam War.

Potential compromise of military and intelligence “sources and methods”? How about the embarrassment wrought to a critical institution, the Department of Defense, by the release? Well, it was a Democratic senator from Alaska, Mike Gravel, who entered the classified documents into the Congressional Record in 1971.




But that was back when that’s what Democrats clamored for — full disclosure and transparency in any and all government institutions, even at risk of damaging same.

Gravel, by the way, also defended Edward Snowden’s release of stolen secret documents from the National Security Agency in 2013. Apparently, he’s nothing but consistent.

An eponymous movie about The Washington Post’s involvement in publishing some of the Pentagon Papers is currently being celebrated in Hollywood — the jokes just write themselves — with a Best Picture nomination at this year’s 90th Academy Awards. Oh, and Meryl “Times Up” Streep is nominated for Best Actress. Don’t know her? She’s the acclaimed actress who stood and applauded for child-rapist Roman Polanski at the 2003 Oscars.

Think any of those Hollywood types would select Nunes over Schiff in a Golden State popularity contest?

The reader may fairly argue that the 1970s could be considered ancient history. Then allow me to further buttress my argument with an examination of another “release the memo” type action from a current sitting senator from America’s most populous state.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes MORE (D-Calif.), when Democrats controlled the Senate, chaired the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. Recall when a controversial report on "enhanced interrogation techniques" was being hotly debated on Capitol Hill, within her committee and across dinner tables around the country?

I certainly do.

I do because the FBI deployed me to Afghanistan on three separate occasions during parts of 2002 and 2003. This was in the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Bush administration had just implemented some fairly controversial allowances for detainee treatment in order to extract actionable intelligence. The fervent hope was to prevent the next imminent terrorist attack on American soil.

Good and decent people can come down on either side of the “Is it or is it not torture?” debate.

But Feinstein took what were considered at the time fairly unprecedented steps in releasing a contested report that many viewed as “fundamentally flawed.”

Sound vaguely familiar?

CIA directors who had been appointed by both parties condemned its release and argued the report’s claims could not be trusted. And many of the “factual claims” were in dispute.

Sound even more familiar?

The famous New Yorker certainly defended Feinstein’s actions and ran with this headline in a June 22, 2015: “The Inside War: To Expose Torture, Dianne Feinstein fought the CIA — and the White House.”

Confused now? Well, don’t be.

When Democrats do it, it’s “courageous.” When Republicans do it, well, it’s “treasonous.”

Inexcusable actions by senior level officials at the FBI and Justice Department deserve public scrutiny. The potential politicization of independent law enforcement entities is a damn serious allegation.

Delay the release of the GOP memo until it can be timed for a simultaneous release with the Democratic countermemo. Make certain both are stringently scrubbed and appropriately redacted in order to ensure the safety of sources and protection of sensitive techniques and methods.

And then stop disingenuously pretending that the Democrats are the defenders of the FBI.

Doubt what I’m saying? Just ask our colleagues at the CIA.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.