The GOP strategy for handling dueling memos from the Republican and the Democratic members on the House intelligence committee was a carefully considered game of political chess. And at every turn, Democrats chased a rook like amateurs while the Republicans put their pieces into place and waited for their closing moves.
Even President Donald Trump, never one to stick to a script, seemed to understand how the plot that was unfolding. He and the White House did their part to help push the theory that the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections are little more than partisan-driven tomfoolery that stemmed from bogus allegations from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In fact, many of them wrongly claimed that the entire probe into Russia’s role in Trump’s victory stemmed from an unconfirmed research report, often called the Steele Dossier. It didn’t matter that the Republican-written memo didn’t prove that. Nor did it matter that the Democrats’ response was sitting on the President’s desk, awaiting his decision to release it the same way he approved the public airing of the Republican edition. Forget the fact that most Americans have no idea who Devin Nunes is or why his memo matters or had bothered to read it. The headlines said enough: Trump claimed he was vindicated, Republicans seemed to have some sort of vague dirt on the FBI, Democrats were left stammering and at the mercy of Trump’s mood and whether he would release their counter-argument. Anyone who went to find out more was directed to conservative sites that amplified the President’s claims. Because the Republicans released their memo first and the Democrats’ rebuttal was still unseen five days later, the GOP message dominated for days.
Set in motion by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, things broke almost entirely in his direction, even though not everyone in his party thought it was the responsible course.
Nunes’ committee voted along party lines to release the Republican memo. Instantly, Republicans could say Democrats were fighting against transparency and oversight. And, of course, they did say such things. “The Democrats voted against declassifying the Republican memo, but not their memo,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at his weekly news conference with reporters.