The Memo that Ate Washington

By John Podhoretz


February 2, 2018


So the memo that has transfixed close political observers for weeks is finally out and it reveals, perhaps, questionable behavior by some government officials. I say “perhaps” because while we know what the memo says, we do not know what it doesn’t say. We know it says a secret warrant was sought by the government at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October 2016 against a one-time Trump campaign associate using information compiled by a source hostile to Trump who was in the pay of the Clinton campaign (or, more precisely, a campaign cut-out). We are told that the FISA court was not informed of the ideological and political provenance of the information it was being supplied by the government. We are also told that after it was secured, the warrant was renewed several times, including by Justice Department officials now working under the Trump administration. And we are told that a senior FBI official who has now been cashiered said the “dossier” featuring the hostile information was the primary source for the warrant.

We might indeed be seeing a case in which the process for securing a FISA warrant was somehow corrupted. And that is bad, and worth exploring, and if the process was indeed corrupted, heads should roll. But come on. In the end, whether the civil rights of Carter Page were violated is not a question you would expect the front page or even the back page or practically any page between to be concerned with. Those who are screaming about these abuses don’t care about the abuses; they care that the abuses signal to them a desperate effort to get Donald Trump. And those who are pooh-poohing the notion that Carter Page’s civil rights are of concern would be perfectly happy to scream abuse if he were on their team.

We don’t know what the memo doesn’t say—the “omissions of fact” about which the FBI complained before its release. We don’t know what else the FISA court might have seen to suggest Page needed to be watched. We don’t know what else the Justice Department officials who seem from the text of the memo to corroborate its conclusions might have said that would go against that. And we may never know.

Like every fight in American politics today, this whole business is about legitimacy. Anti-Trump forces have been working to find him illegitimate since he won the election. Pro-Trump forces have responded to this by delegitimating anyone and everyone who opposes him. Thus, the ludicrous idea that the Russians got Trump elected; and the equally ludicrous idea that Trump is under unprecedented assault by a “deep state” at the Department of Justice.

No “deep state” caused Trump campaign officials to take a meeting with a Putin agent at Trump Tower and then to lie about it to the press a year later after an independent counsel had been appointed to look into Russian ties to the election. Nobody told Trump to fire James Comey of the FBI after Trump himself asked Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, a man who has since pled guilty. No deep state caused Trump to claim falsely he had tapes proving Comey lied, a claim that led directly to the almost automatic appointment of  an independent counsel. These were all Trump’s errors. He committed them as the legitimate president of the United States.

Similarly, the idea that the release of the memo was a horrendous threat to national security is belied by the text of the memo itself. War, Clausewitz said, is a continuation of politics by other means. The case for war is made by rallying each side with rah-rah slogans that dehumanize your combatants. Here we are. This is war, 21st Century Washington style.