What The Nunes Memo Says, And Doesn't Say47:34

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

With guest host Indira Lakshmanan.

The Nunes memo is out. What does it say? What doesn't it say? Will President Trump use it to fire the Department of Justice's No. 2 — or special counsel Robert Mueller?

Our guests will give us the latest.


Jonathan Landay, national security reporter for Reuters. (@JonathanLanday)

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, Democratic congresswoman representing San Mateo and parts of San Francisco, California. (@RepSpeier)

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, Republican congressman representing the first district of Arkansas. (@reprickcrawford)

Tim Weiner, former New York Times national security reporter.

From The Reading List:

New York Times: In Trump Vs. The FBI, Trump Will Lose — "President Trump entered office last year as a singular figure. But he has come to resemble two of his predecessors in one crucial respect. Though he’s more paranoid than Richard Nixon and more mendacious than Bill Clinton, he seems bent on following them down a road to hell: a confrontation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Like them, he’ll lose."

Reuters: Republicans Differ With Trump On Whether Memo Undercuts Russia Probe — "Several Republican lawmakers disagreed on Sunday with President Donald Trump’s assertion that a memo released last week by the House Intelligence Committee vindicated him in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election."

#ReleasetheMemo: An important step in government transparency...or a dire threat to national security? A damning expose of FBI bias….or a big, fat nothingburger? Will the memo put a stop to an anti-Trump “witch hunt”...or is it more fodder for Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion or obstruction of justice? This hour, On Point: the Republican memo from House Intelligence Committee - and what it means for President Trump, the FBI, and the Mueller investigation. --Indira Lakshmanan

This program aired on February 5, 2018.

Nunes Memo Stirs Controversy In Washington As Government Shutdown Looms

A memo alleging misconduct by the FBI has stoked partisan divides in Washington, as lawmakers near a deadline to keep the government funded. President Trump says the memo vindicates him in what he's called a "Russian Witch Hunt." Democrats meanwhile are clamoring for their own memo, rebutting the first, to be released.

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with NPR's Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) about how the memo continues to reverberate in Washington.

This segment aired on February 5, 2018.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die (2018) write from a historical perspective on how Donald Trump's demagoguery may destroy American democracy.  They posit that extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies.  The United States has had its share of them, including Henry Ford, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace.  An essential test for democracies is not whether such figures emerge but whether political leaders, and especially political parties, work to prevent them from gaining power in the first place--by keeping them off mainstream party tickets, refusing to endorse or align with them, and when necessary, making common cause with rivals in support of democratic candidates.  Isolating popular extremists requires political courage.  But when fear, opportunism, or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.

Levitsky & Ziblatt trace the dissonance between the Republicans and the Democrats began with the Civil War.  They state that rebuilding democratic norms after a civil war is never easy, and America was no exception.  The wounds of war halted slowly; Democrats and Republicans only grudgingly accepted one another as legitimate rivals.

After democrats and republicans accepted each other as legitimate rivals, polarization gradually declined, giving rise to the kind of politics that would characterize American democracy for the decades that followed.  Bipartisan cooperation enable a series of important reforms, including the Sixteenth amendment (1913), which permitted the federal income tax, the Seventh amendment (1913), which established the direct election of U.S. senators, and the Nineteenth amendment (1919), which granted women the right to vote.

Mutual toleration, in turn, encouraged forbearance.  By the late nineteenth century, informal conventions or work-arounds had already begun to permeate all branches of government, enabling our system of checks and balances to function reasonably well.  The importance of these norms was not lost on outside observers.  In his two-volume masterpiece, The American commonwealth (1888), British scholar James Bryce wrote that it was not the U.S. Constitution itself that made the American political system work but rather what he called "usages": our unwritten rules.


Levitsky & Ziblatt charge that Donald Trump, a serial norm breaker, is widely (and correctly) criticized for assaulting America's democratic norms.  But the problem did not begin with Trump.  The process of norm erosion started decades ago--long before Trump descended an escalator to announce his presidential candidacy.

In a 1978 congressional race in northwestern Georgia, a young Newt Gingrich made his third bid for office in a district outside Atlanta.  After two previous failed runs as a self-identified liberal Republican, he finally won--this time as a conservative, capturing a district that hadn't been in republican had in 130years.    His benign appearance belied a ruthlessness that would help transform American politics.

In June of his 1978 campaign, Gingrich had met with a group of college Republicans at an Atlantic Airport holiday Inn, wooing them with a blunter, more cutthroat vision of politics than they were accustomed to.  He found a hungry audience.  Gingrich warned the young Republicans to stop using "Boy Scout words," which would be great around the campfire, but are lousy in politics."  He continued:

You're fighting a war.  It is a war for power.... This party does not need another generation of cautious, prudent, careful, bland, irrelevant quasi-leaders.... what we really need are people who are willing to stand up in the slug-fest.... What's the primary purpose of a political leader... to build a majority?

When Gingrich arrived in Washington in 1979, his vision of politics as warfare was at odds with that of the Republican leadership.  Backed by a small but growing group of loyalist, Gingrich launched an insurgency aimed at instilling a more combative approach in the party.  Taking advantage of a new media technology, C-Span, Gingrich "used adjectives like rocks," deliberately employing over-the-top rhetoric.  He described congress as "corrupt" and "sick."  He questioned his Democratic rivals' patriotism.  He even compared them to Mussolini and accused them of trying to "destroy our country."  According to former Georgia state Democratic Party leader Steve Anthon, "The things that came out of Gingrich's mouth ... we had never (heard) that before from either side.  Gingrich went so far over the top that the shock factor rendered the opposition frozen for a few years."

Gingrich and his political action committee, GOPAC, and his allies worked to spread these tactics across the party.  GOPAC produced more than two thousand training audiotapes, distributed each month to get the recruits of Gingrich's "Republican revolution" on the same rhetorical page.  Democrats were to be referred to using certain negative words, including pathetic, sick, bizarre, betray, antiflag, antifamily, and traitors.  It was the beginning of a seismic shift in American politics.

Even as Gingrich ascended the Republican leadership structure--becoming minority whip in 1989 and Speaker of the house in 1995--he refused to abandon his hardline rhetoric.  And rather than repelling the party, he pulled it to him.  By the time he became Speaker, Gingrich was a role model to a new generation of Republican legislators, many of them elected in the 1994 landslide that gave the GOP is first House majority in forty years.  The Senate was likewise transformed by the arrival of "Gingrich Senators," whose ideology, aversion to compromise, and willingness to obstruct legislation helped speed the end of the body's traditional "folkways."

Though few realized it at the time, Gingrich and his allies were on the cusp of a new wave of polarization rooted in growing public discontent, particularly among the Republican base.  Gingrich didn't create this polarization, but he was one of the first republicans to exploit the shift in popular sentiment.  And his leadership helped to establish "politics as warfare" as the GOP's dominant strategy.  According to Democratic congressman Barney Frank: Gingrich transformed American politics from one in which people presume the good will of their opponents, even as they disagreed, into one in which people treated the people with whom they disagreed as bad and immoral.  He was a kind of McCarthyite who succeeded.

Levitsky & Ziblatt state that by the 2000s, the, Democratic and republican voters, and the politicians representing them, were more divided than at any point in the previous century.  But why was most of the norm breaking being done by the Republican Party?

In 2010, 69 percent of Republicans voters were Fox News viewers.  And popular radio talk-show hosts such as rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael savage, mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham, all of whom have helped to legitimate the use of uncivil discourse, have few counterparts among liberals

The rise of right-wing media also affected Republican office holders.  During the Obama administration, Fox News commentators and right-wing radio personalities almost uniformly adopted a "no compromise" position, viciously attacking any Republican politician who broke with the party line.  when California republican representative Darrell Issa declare that  the GOP could accomplish more of its agenda if it were willing to work, on occasion, with president Obama, rush Limbaugh forced him to publicly repudiate his claim and pledge loyalty to the obstructionist agenda.  As former senate Marjory Leader Trent Lott put it, "If you stray the slightest from the far right, you get hit by the conservative media."


Hard-line positions reinforced by well-funded conservative interest group support the GOP.  In the late 1990s, organizations such as Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth became leading voices in the GOP, pulling Republican politicians toward more ideologically inflexible positions.  Thanks to the loosening of campaign finance laws in 2010, outside groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy alliance--many of them part of the Koch billionaire family network--gained outsize influence in the Republican party during the Obama years.  In 2012 alone, the Koch family was responsible for some $400million in election spending.  Along with the Tea Party, the Koch network and other similar organizations helped elect a new generation of Republicans for who compromise was a dirty word.  A party with a core that was hollowed out by donors and pressure groups was also more vulnerable to extremist forces.

But it is not only media and outside interests that have pushed the Republican Party toward extremism.  Social and cultural changes have also played a major role.  Unlike the Democratic Party, which has grown increasingly diverse in recent decades, the GOP has remained culturally homogeneous.  This is significant because the party's core white Protestant voters are not just any consistency--for nearly two centuries, they comprise the majority of the U>S. electorate and were politically, economically, and culturally dominant in American society.  Now, again, white Protestants are a minority of the electorate--and declining.  And they have hunkered down in the Republican Party.

Levitsky & Ziblatt posit that half a century after its publican, Hofstadter’s essay may be more relevant than ever.  The struggle against declining majority status is, in good part, what fuels the intense animosity that has come to define the American Right.  Survey evidence suggests that many Tea Party Republicans share the perception that the country they grew up in is "slipping away, threatened by the rapidly changing face of what they believe is the 'real' America."  To quote the title of sociologist Arlie Hochchild's recent book, they perceive themselves to be "strangers in their own land."

The perception among many Tea Party Republicans that their America is disappearing helps us understand the appeal of such slogans as "Take Our Country Back" or "Make America Great Again."  The danger of such appeals is that casting Democrats s not real Americans is a frontal assault on mutual toleration.

Republicans from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump learned that in a polarized society, treating rivals as enemies can be useful--and that the pursuit of politics as warfare can be appealing to those who fear they have much to lose.  But war always has its price.  The mounting assault on norms of mutual toleration and forbearance--mostly, though not entirely, by Republicans--has eroded the soft guardrails that long protected us from the kind of partisan fight to the death that has destroyed democracies in other parts of the world.  When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the guardrails were still there, but they were weaker than they had been in a century--and things were about to get worse.

It Looks Like It's Going To Be Another Week Of Memo Madness


Rachel Martin talks to former FBI agent Asha Rangappa, who argues that the release of a Republican memo concerning the FBI confirmed that the Russia investigation has a solid basis.

Mueller's Reputation In Washington Is 'Stunningly Bipartisan,' Journalist Says


A journalist describes Robert Mueller, pictured in 2007 when he was FBI director, as "about as apolitical and nonpartisan a figure as you could find in Washington."

Susan Walsh/AP

As the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election forges on, Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel leading the investigation, has managed to stay largely out of public view.

Journalist Garrett Graff says that is in keeping with Mueller's personality: "This is not someone who in any way has tried to grab the spotlight, but instead has kept his head down and worked hard throughout his career."

Graff's 2011 book, The Threat Matrix, explores the transformation of the FBI under Mueller's leadership. Appointed by President George W. Bush, Mueller took over as director of the FBI one week before the Sept. 11 attacks. After Mueller completed his 10-year term as FBI director, President Barack Obama reappointed him for a two-year term, which required a special act of Congress.

"Bob Mueller is probably about as apolitical and nonpartisan a figure as you could find in Washington, particularly at the levels of government in which he has served," Graff says. "This is someone who really, truly believes in truth, justice [and] in the American way, in a way that very few people in American life today anymore do."

Interview Highlights

On Mueller's bipartisan record

We know him most recently, obviously, as the FBI director, but his tenure in government really dates back to the Reagan years. And he's been appointed or held top jobs in the administrations of all five of the last presidents, and was appointed to the Justice Department, the head of the criminal division, under George H.W. Bush's administration, then was appointed a U.S. attorney by Bill Clinton, then appointed the acting deputy attorney general by George W. Bush, and then later FBI director — a position he was reappointed to, in an unprecedented move, by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate by a vote 100-0, a stunningly bipartisan track record in today's times.

On Mueller's military service

Part of what makes Bob Mueller such a fascinating character is he has dedicated his life sort of time and again to public service. ... Mueller and a handful of other colleagues ... [signed] up for Vietnam after college. This was early in the 1960s, so it was before Vietnam became the cultural touchpoint that it did later.

Second Lt. Marine Corps Bob Mueller ended up leading a platoon in the jungles of Vietnam for a year and really distinguished himself in combat. He received a Bronze Star with valor for his leadership in an ambush that his unit suffered in the fall of 1968, and then was actually shot himself in a separate incident in April 1969 where he received, of course, the Purple Heart and was quickly back on patrol and served out the remainder of his year.

On how the FBI changed after the Sept. 11 attacks

Bob Mueller, in the days after Sept. 11, sees this incredible sea change in the mission of the FBI, which until then for most of its first 90 years had primarily been a law enforcement agency focused domestically on solving crimes after the fact. And on Sept. 11, we saw an international plot that focused on a suicide attack with catastrophic results, and that that necessitated this top-to-bottom change in the way that the United States approached counterterrorism issues, that after-the-fact investigation was going to be inadequate in the face of these threats.

So Mueller was given a mission by [former Attorney General] John Ashcroft and President Bush to not just investigate attacks afterwards, but to stop plots in the first place, to disrupt the attack before it happened.

It led to this massive reorganization that Bob Mueller spent the next 12 years of his tenure working on, to move the FBI from what was traditionally a domestic law enforcement agency into something that is more akin to an international intelligence agency.

On how Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign is similar to other FBI investigations

This is, in many ways, a perfectly standard and routine FBI investigation. The FBI, as an investigative agency, takes down corrupt organizations, that's what it's designed to do, go after street gangs, drug cartels, organized crime families, and the way that they do that is by starting on the outside and working their way in. And so that can either mean starting at the bottom of an organization, or starting with ancillary charges and working their way inwards, the equivalent of getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

So you've seen this investigation both where Mueller has started almost literally at the bottom with George Papadopoulos and pressured him to cooperate on people above, and also in the charges against Paul Manafort, which are sort of ancillary to the core question of the behavior of the Trump campaign. He's sort of first charged this decade-long alleged money laundering scheme dating back through some sort of unrelated work, again as a pressure point on Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. ...

We speak of the Mueller probe as if it is one thing, but it's actually this whole panoply of different investigations into different threads of the Trump campaign, the 2016 presidential election and the involvement of Russia. There's sort of some money-laundering aspects to it, there's some campaign aspects to it, we've seen him go after and get documents from Facebook, other social media sites, Cambridge Analytica, the campaign data team. There's all sorts of different threads of this investigation that are being followed, and we know that Bob Mueller is going to be incredibly tenacious in that investigation but that he's also not going on a fishing expedition.

On what might happen to the investigation into the Trump campaign if Mueller is fired

This was an investigation that began before Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. Remember, actually, the guilty pleas of George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn both stem from lies that they told to FBI agents months before Robert Mueller stepped into this probe.

And so those investigators would presumably continue investigating, and there might even be a new special counsel appointed who steps in, and even if that's not true, and the special counsel's office is disbanded entirely, the prosecution of those open investigations would likely transfer back to the U.S. Attorney's office in D.C. or the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria, Va., and that those investigations might just continue apace absent a special counsel.

People forget, or don't know, when you open an FBI investigation that's actually a very formal process that goes through several different stages of an investigation before you end up with what's known as a "full field" investigation, and by the time you get there, you have to have shown evidence of a potential criminal act in order to get to that formal "OK" to continue an investigation.

And similarly, there's a formal process to shut down an investigation that requires prosecutors to review the evidence with agents and to decline an investigation and charges. This is not something that's quite as simple as, "If Bob Mueller is fired, he walks out the door, locks the office behind him and everything just disappears into the ether."

Views: 43

Comment by mary gravitt on February 6, 2018 at 1:23pm

This is Part One--long but if you do not have time read the text, read the pictures.  I understand that the post is long, but the information is valuable because our democracy is in danger.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die (2018) propose a most interesting case on retrieving what is left of our democracy, and we should heed them.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 7, 2018 at 6:11am

I’ve long noticed that the main guy who killed American government was Gingrich. I see I”m not alone. 

Comment by mary gravitt on February 14, 2018 at 1:10pm

One of the few things I wish is that Newt Gingrich should be strung up by piano wire.  That's one thing the Nazis got right about traitors.  Gingrich is at the root of what is wrong with our democracy as to why our politicians cannot do their job of representing the people.  Most on the Right are controlled by the Koch Network or other Alt Kochs that is supporting the Trump/Bannon plan to move the US and the whole would back to pre-WWI and destroy modernism.  Sounds crazy, but this is the plan where no billionaire had to pay income tax and so forth.

I tried to publish Part Two, but the system would not let my page be saved or published.  However, I won't give up because troth must be told, even if my spelling is bad.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 14, 2018 at 1:16pm

Do you realize that if you broke stuff like this up to a post a day, you’d probably be read by most of the site?

Comment by mary gravitt on February 14, 2018 at 1:48pm

The problem is that I do not have internet service at home and once I start writing I have to get everything in within the space of 2 hours.  This is why I state read the pictures if you don't have time for the text.

And lately the weather has bad.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 14, 2018 at 2:12pm

Forgot that. Sorry.


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