In The Case Of The FISA Memos, Transparency Is National Security
Below is my column on the ongoing controversy over the majority and minority memos from the House Intelligence Committee. President Donald Trump has sent the Democratic memo — which is much longer and detailed — back to the Committee for revisions. He accused of the Democrats of intentionally loading up the memos with classified information to argue that the White House was withholding embarrassing information. This column below argues for disclosure of not just as much of these memos as possible but underlying material.
“National security” has been a rallying cry for politicians for centuries. Unassailable and undefined, it is the perfect conversation-stopper when debating opponents, particularly when you control the information that would prove or disprove your position. The mantra of “national security” is often used as if it has a fixed and universally understood meaning. It doesn’t, and the controversy over the “Nunes memo” from the House Intelligence Committee highlights how politics can distort semantics of security.
For weeks, the FBI and Democratic leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee ranking minority member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) declared that the release of the memo would seriously undermine national security due to its highly classified content. The FBI said that the release of the memo would cause “grave” consequences to national security. When the memo was released, the public found that it was devoid of anything even remotely sensitive, let alone the disclosure of “sources and methods.”
For civil libertarians, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) controversy does raise a serious national security issue of a different kind. First, there is the underlying issue involving the use of national security powers for political purposes. While the true facts have not been fully established, there are aspects of the controversy that are troubling. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired former British spy Christopher Steele to gather dirt on Donald Trump.
For many months, the Clinton campaign denied any connection to the dossier and only recently admitted that they were behind the effort when confronted with new information. Moreover, there are indications that close associates of Clinton may have fed material to Steele, who tried to get the information into the media during the campaign and told an FBI official that he was “desperate” to stop Trump from being elected.
These associates reportedly include controversial Hillary Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, who has been long been accused of spreading rumors against Clinton opponents and critics. It also includes a State Department official, Jonathan Winer, who seemed to function as a transit point on dirt involving Trump. He has admitted to both passing along hundreds of Steele reports to high-ranking officials as well as sending information from Cody Shearer, a freelance writer with close ties to the Clintons. If people in the Obama administration used the FBI to target political opponents, it would be a national security concern.
Second, it is also a national security concern if the FBI has used its classification authority to try to bar the release of embarrassing information. The FBI has a long history of classifying abusive or criminal conduct. It has used national security to pursue political figures like Martin Luther King. On this occasion, it not only misused classification laws but misled the public.
The primary objection of the FBI proved to be not the disclosure of national security secrets but what it viewed as an unfair portrayal of its own conduct. The FBI also was reportedly upset that the memo included the names of high-ranking FBI and Justice Department figures, like James Comey and Rod Rosenstein, who signed off on the controversial surveillance of a Trump adviser. Not only was such information not sensitive, it clearly was not a “grave” threat to national security.
The Republicans were right to override the FBI and release this memo. That does not mean that the memo is accurate, but it was not a threat to national security. Likewise, the Republicans were correct in joining Democrats to seek the release of the minority memo. The content of these memos is separate from their classification.
Nevertheless, Schiff has called the release of the clearly unclassified Nunes memo to be a “sad day” for the country and “a shameful effort to discredit” the FBI and Justice Department. Other Democrats have expressed shock that the Republicans would defy the FBI in this way, negating the committee’s oversight role in such disputes. Rule 11(g) was specifically written to address rampant over-classification of material like the Nunes memo.
Schiff and other Democrats once strongly advocated for transparency and oversight independence. In 2013, Schiff called for the FISA court to be “much more transparent so that the American people can understand what is being done in their name and in the name of national security so that we can have a more informed debate over the balance between privacy and security.”
Whatever your definition of national security, it should not mean job security for the FBI or political security for any party. National security is meant to protect something other than the agencies themselves. First and foremost, it protects our lives and our liberties. It is a national security threat when politicians or agency officials lie to the public about declassification dangers. It is also a national security threat to use secret courts and classified proceedings to hide government abuse.
In the Federalist Papers, James Madison explained it best. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men,” he wrote, “the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” Controlling the FBI is a national security matter if both our lives and our liberties are to be protected.
So where does that leave us? Simple: This is a case where transparency is national security. On issues ranging from the testimony of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe to the basis for secret surveillance orders, someone in our government is clearly lying to us. The only way to know is to force the disclosure of not just the majority and the minority House Intelligence Committee memos but transcripts and other related materials.
Much of the details of these investigations have already been leaked or disclosed. It is now of paramount importance for the public to confirm who has been using our national security laws to spread false information, whether inside Congress or inside the FBI. We also need to resolve whether the FBI and our security services were influenced by political motives or associations. It is not simply a matter of politics. It is a matter of national security.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He has been lead counsel in national security cases for more than two decades and has testified before congressional intelligence committees. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes was not a household name outside of the Capitol until his famous “memo” outlining gross irregularities in the conduct of the FBI and Justice Department investigations into the so-called “Russian collusion” case.
But, since then, the House Intelligence Committee chairman from California has been under fire from Democrats and the media. California Republicans are planning to pour money into challenging his re-election bid in November. And now, even comedian Bill Maher, is attacking him with his list of “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” list.
Ironically, Devin Nunes’ life has been an open book, so to speak. In fact, he authored one in 2010, the year of the tea-party revolt, and it’s still around for those who love him and hate him to pore through.
Many who overlooked it eight years ago are rediscovering his manifesto and personal story titled, “Restoring the Republic,” which demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the issues facing America in 2010 and still today. In fact, the book has shot up the charts as a once-obscure member of Congress has taken on an exceedingly high profile.
For months, Rep. Devin Nunes has been a key figure in efforts to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
First, last March, he revealed members of the intel community had collected communications from Trump’s transition team back while Obama was president – leaving Democrats scrambling to reclaim their narrative that Trump had no evidence to back his claim that Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower.
Then, Nunes, badgered by a combative establishment media, defended his decision to tell President Trump about the surveillance, while repeatedly explaining he had seen no evidence of communication between Russia and Trump’s transition team.
Now he’s at the center of the storm over the four-page memo alleging “shocking” surveillance abuses of the Trump presidential campaign by the Justice Department and FBI – abuses some who have seen it call “worse than Watergate.” In response, at least two pundits on MSNBC have absurdly questioned on-air whether Nunes is a Russian agent.
Meanwhile, Nunes, whose staff authored the memo, has released a statement appearing to confirm the FBI used “unverified information” from the notorious anti-Trump dossier in its application for a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign officials.
“Having stonewalled Congress’ demands for information for nearly a year, it’s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies,” Nunes said, adding: “[I]t’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign. Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again.”
But who is Devin Nunes, and what does he believe? What are the principles for which he has been fighting in Congress since 2003? What type of future does he want for America?
The answers to those questions can be found in Nunes’ book “Restoring the Republic: A Clear, Concise, and Colorful Blueprint For America’s Future,” which is available at the WND Superstore.
In “Restoring the Republic,” Nunes lays out a detailed plan for how to fix the problems threatening the nation’s future. In his own words, the congressman reveals:
- How America can break its dependence on Middle Eastern oil and transform itself into an energy powerhouse;
- How America can prevent Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from exploding the national debt and ruining the country financially;
- How the nation can restore economic growth through a simpler, fairer tax code;
- How the U.S. can deal with the many international threats it faces;
- How America’s borders can be defended and its broken immigration system fixed;
- And how failing public schools can be repaired.
Plus, Nunes reveals why politicians from both parties refuse to discuss the one most critical reform needed to restore the republic.
The congressman draws on his experience growing up in the breadbasket of central California. As a child on his family’s dairy farm in Tulare County, Nunes saw firsthand how the convergence of big government, big business and the radical left wreaked havoc on an entire community, transforming once-prosperous farmland of the San Joaquin Valley into little more than blighted desert.
Now those same forces are threatening the nation as a whole, and Nunes offers solutions on how to beat them back and keep America strong and free.
Niall Ferguson, a Harvard University history professor and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, showered“Restoring the Republic” with praise.
“Devin Nunes is one of a new generation of Republican politicians who articulate the frustrations of millions of ordinary Americans with the way their country – or at least their government – has lost sight of the first principles embedded in the Constitution. A believer in freedom in all its varieties and a skeptic of big government, he reads like one of the true sons of the Reagan Revolution,” he wrote.
Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian and columnist for National Review Online, wrote effusively about Nunes’ book as well.
“In common sense logic and language, Rep. Devin Nunes outlines how both Republican and Democratic administrations and congresses in the past have nearly bankrupted the country, wedded to a utopian social, economic, and cultural agenda that we can never pay for nor will ever work. Most importantly, he offers not just a critique of these depressing times, but also a conservative blueprint for national renewal that, if followed, would allow us to pay off our debts, reform a corrupt political system, harness out-of-control entitlements, and utilize all our own energy sources.”
Joseph Farah, founder of WND and the publisher of Nunes’ book had this to say: “When Bill Maher comes after you, you know you hit the bull’s-eye.”