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The Republican Memo Doesn't Spotlight the Real Scandal

If the president hoped that the memo by Republican staff on the House Intelligence Committee would end the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, he's more deluded than many of us thought. The controversial memo -- released on a strict party-line vote by the committee with the approval of the president against the objections of the Justice Department, the FBI and others in the intelligence community -- isn't the bombshell promised. Taken at face value, it claims that the renewal of a warrant issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to intercept communications between Donald Trump campaign operative Carter Page and alleged Russian agents was based on flimsy evidence that there was probable cause to continue to surveil Page's communications. The gravamen of the argument against the surveillance is that the FBI failed to alert the court that the Hillary Clinton campaign had paid a research firm to come up with a report, the so-called Steele dossier, documenting Trump's and his campaign staff's ties to Russia. And, according to the memo, Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, was also suspect (even though he may not have known who was ultimately paying for the research he did) because he was biased against Trump.

Of course, the White House would like everyone to forget that the surveillance had nothing to do with revealing some of the most damning elements in the Russian investigation -- namely, that the president's son, son-in-law and campaign manager met with Russian operatives during the summer of 2016 to get "dirt" on Clinton promised by an intermediary who also claimed that the Russians were trying to help Trump win the election. Nor does the warrant have anything to do with uncovering a far-reaching campaign by the Russians to spread disinformation via social media or to try to break in to voting machines with the likely intent to sabotage the election. It also doesn't explain why the president has been so reluctant to want to get to the bottom of Russian interference in the election -- or even to acknowledge that it took place despite nearly universal agreement among intelligence officials and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that it not only occurred in 2016 but is ongoing. That, to me, is the real scandal. Why doesn't the president or his team care that a hostile foreign government is trying to subvert our electoral process?

Those who are interested in getting to the bottom of Russian meddling are worried that the release of the Republican memo will be used by the president and his apologists to try to shut down the investigation by the special prosecutor, especially as it closes in around the president. And there seems to be some reason for concern. It is no accident that the officials named as having signed off on the application to the FISC include some of the very figures who either oversee Robert Mueller's work -- namely, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein -- or have already incurred the president's wrath, including former FBI Director James Comey and his deputy director, Andrew McCabe, as well as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Trump fired Comey when the director wouldn't back off the Russia investigation; at least that's what he suggested to Russian diplomats who met with the president the day after the firing and he confirmed in an interview with NBC News. But firing Rosenstein would be more difficult than firing Comey, in part because Rosenstein was appointed to his post by Trump but more importantly because it would be viewed as a prelude to firing Mueller.

Clearly, the president and his apologists on the right believe that the House Intelligence Committee memo will divert attention away from the Russia investigation and put attention on what they see as a politically motivated investigation to delegitimize the Trump presidency. But the real story is that the Russians tried to interfere in our most recent presidential election and are still bent on disrupting future elections and that the president of the United States doesn't seem to care one whit.