Memo War: The latest episode in Trump’s attack on democracy
The GOP memo was compiled by Rep. Devin Nunes' staff under the guidance of Rep. Trey Gowdy, who, according to the Justice Department, was the only member of the committee to view some of the underlying intelligence. | Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The release of a Republican memo containing highly classified material is only the latest in a series of increasingly authoritarian moves by President Trump and the Trumpist GOP lawmakers in Congress. This, and all of their dangerous moves are done with the clear purpose of obstructing justice.

The memo actually doesn’t say as much as was originally touted other than that the famous “Steele dossier” was supposedly biased and that the FBI didn’t disclose that when it requested FISA warrants. It can safely be predicted that the Republicans will claim that the FISA warrants were motivated by political bias and not legitimate legal concerns and that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, because he signed one, is therefore untrustworthy. If such an excuse is used to fire Rosenstein, a new boss put in his place could squash the Mueller investigation.

The same lawmakers who ranted and raved about alleged mishandling of classified material by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State now apparently think it’s acceptable to release such material over the public objection of the FBI, a law enforcement agency Republicans have been so eager to praise in the past.

The Trump administration and its backers are attacking not just the rule of law but are leading an attack on democratic norms across the board. They are turning the White House and Congress into vehicles for carrying the nation down an increasingly authoritarian path.

It should be plain for every reasonable, thinking person to see that the entire system of justice is under attack by this administration, including the courts, the Justice Department, the FBI and, in the immediate situation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The controversial memo is proof, according to Trump and his backers, that there is a “deep state” grouping inside the FBI, the courts, and other intelligence agencies out to unjustly bring down the presidency of Donald Trump. The document, prepared by the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, claims that the FBI and the Justice Department abused surveillance powers by tricking the secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court into letting them spy on the Trump campaign.

The memo controversy represents an attempt by the far-right to fight back against the investigation of claims that Trump colluded with a Russian effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 race. The memo itself, though, amounts to nothing more than a propaganda document—part of a campaign to undermine public credibility in the Mueller probe into Trump’s corruption and crimes.

It is clear that since Trump became president, he has spearheaded an all-encompassing effort to obstruct justice. Nunes and the Republicans on his committee are assisting Trump in the task, having put together a one-sided memo and releasing it to the public. Their memo is designed to bolster their claim that the FBI is pro-Democratic Party and is part of the conspiracy that is trying to destroy Donald Trump. The right-wing media is further helping by boosting the memo’s release as some kind of bombshell exposing a frame-up effort against Trump.

The goal of Trump, Nunes, and the rest of the Republican Party is to bring down both Robert Mueller and anyone in the FBI seen as working with the special counsel investigation into Russian interference and other possible Trump crimes.

The truth is that the release of this particular memo at this moment in time, when taken together with an ugly chain of maneuvers on the part of the president, proves not that Trump is the victim of a deep state conspiracy, but rather that he is the chief engineer of his own conspiracy to set himself up as an authoritarian ruler shielded from the consequences of his crimes.

Every step the president has taken violates democratic norms and pushes the country farther toward that outcome. Though Trump’s actions have been stretched out over more than a year, their cumulative impact on the system of justice rivals even Nixon’s infamous “Saturday night massacre” to halt investigations into his presidency.

First, there was the January 2017 firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who had begged Trump to do something about Gen. Mike Flynn’s potential to be blackmailed by Russians. The White House used Yates refusal to comply with Trump’s Muslim ban as its excuse to sack her.

Then, in March 2017, Trump fired U.S. Attorney Preet Baharara in New York. It was Baharara, remember, who was familiar with how deeply Trump was involved in money laundering and real estate fraud. He’s known for sending fear into the hearts of Wall Street executives, having prosecuted nearly a hundred of them for insider trading and other crimes.

Following that, Trump demanded FBI Director James Comey swear his personal loyalty to the president. Then, he demanded that Comey let Flynn off the hook for any collaboration or dealing he might have done with the Russians. When this went nowhere, he fired Comey in May 2017 and even admitted on national TV that he did it because of “the Russia thing.”

Later on, at one time or another, he pressured Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and Mike Rogers, NSA director, to push for an end to the Russia investigations.

Trump put the squeeze on his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, not to recuse himself because of his connection to the Trump campaign. After Sessions refused, Trump launched a television and Twitter campaign against him, making for an awkward scene as a president publicly attacked one of the top officials of his own cabinet.

Then, of course, there is the evidence that Trump while on board Air Force One, personally orchestrated and authored the lies about the Trump Tower meeting between his campaign leaders and the Russians.

After that, Trump repeatedly attacked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who supervises the Mueller investigation. He also demanded a loyalty oath from Rosenstein. The talk now in Washington  is that he wants to fire Rosenstein in a backdoor maneuver to kill the Mueller investigation.  Trump apparently thinks the release of the memo will help him do that.

He has also attacked the entire FBI, saying on national TV to that the entire agency is an outfit “in tatters.”

Without going into the merits of the FBI, which has certainly proven historically that it cannot be considered a reliable defender of democracy, it is clear that the Trump and Republican attacks outlined here aim, at the very least, to destroy the credibility of the Mueller investigation. Further, they are also designed to give cover to Trump if he does decide to fire Mueller.

The campaign to undermine the credibility of the investigation could also provide cover to Trump if he decides to pardon members of his family and inner circle, including aides and campaign operatives.

Republicans, having become the party of obstruction, also hope that release of the memo will give them some protection in the event they ever have to vote on an impeachment resolution resulting from Mueller’s findings. The GOP Trumpist conspiracy—the only real conspiracy going on here—will allow GOP lawmakers to feel more comfortable opposing any impeachment move.

Beyond the intrigue of conspiracies and Washington bickering, another important point to keep in mind is that the underlying aim, especially for the Republicans in Congress, is to distract from their outrageous attacks on the living standards, the health and safety, and the civil and human rights of the broad majority of the American people. Their purpose is to conceal how the far-right agenda is undermining the economic security of the people of this country. They are concealing what they are really doing: trashing people’s incomes, futures, protections, and rights.

The whole fracas also detracts from voters’ seeing some of the specific ways in which this is done, including via the elimination of agencies, programs, and protections vital to the U.S. people, and which the people support—everything from challenging freedom of the press to dismantling the EPA to eliminating job safety, health, and wage rules.

The hope now is that the resistance movement, growing every day from one end of the nation to the other, will seize the opportunity that stands before it. The 2018 elections must repeal and replace the GOP Trumpist majorities in both the House and Senate.

C.J. Atkins contributed to this story.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.