After much hype and hand-wringing, the memo was released.
The GOP memo was advertised as proof that Democrats were out to get President Donald Trump and used the FBI and Justice Department in ways that more than one Republican claimed amounted to treason.
An enthusiastic player in the drama, the White House cheered on and facilitated release of the memo supposedly written by Rep. Devin Nunes.
“We certainly support full transparency,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in the run-up to the Feb. 2 official release of the memo, parts of which were leaked early to conservative media.
In an opinion piece published by CNBC, writers Christina Wilkie and Dan Mangan noted comments by chief of staff John Kelly:
“This president … wants everything out, so the American people can make up their own minds, and if there’s people to be held accountable, then so be it,” Kelly said.
And from Vice President Mike Pence: “I’ve always believed in the public’s right to know.”
On the day the memo was released, conservative media outlets feigned shock and outrage. But most former intelligence officials and analysts were not persuaded.
The memo did not undermine the integrity of the investigation or those who are conducting it.
It did question the motives of some sources, and the means by which some officials advanced the investigation.
But police and intelligence agents often rely on people with axes to grind for information. They understand that, generally, sources are more willing to tell on people they don’t like than people they do. That creates a need to assess the validity of information, but it doesn’t automatically discredit the source.
And career professionals can and do separate personal opinion from official conduct – every day.
Not only did the Nunes memo fail to make a case that motives colored the investigation, but it proved to be misleading or flat-out wrong in some of its claims.
Rather than exemplify transparency in government, the memo showed the GOP is willing to destroy Americans’ faith in law enforcement in service to Trump.
If the president and his allies were sincere in their efforts to improve transparency, they could easily take these five steps.
First, release visitors logs for the White House and Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump administration keeps secret the corporate lobbyists, special interests and foreign agents it is working with. It makes public only those visits that help the president politically. That gives a misleading and dishonest view of how our government is working.
Second, release all parties from legal nondisclosure agreements.
Trump has often used nondisclosure agreements to buy silence. It would serve the public interest if those parties – whether they are porn stars, ex-employees or former bankers and business partners – were allowed to talk about what they know.
Third, request that the FBI release texts and emails of agents who opposed Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.
The FBI has released some texts and emails of those who disliked Trump. But it has not done the same for officials and agents who were anti-Clinton.
There were plenty. During the campaign, Trump supporters Rudy Giuliani and James Kallstrom (a former FBI official) told Fox News and other media repeatedly that they had many sources within the FBI who provided them with information highly critical of Clinton.
They later walked back their boasts about inside sources and leaks, but it’s clear they were fed information from anti-Clinton officials within the FBI.
Fourth, release the president’s tax returns for the last 10 years.
If Trump is willing to declassify information that intelligence agencies worried would put people’s lives at risk, he should be willing to disclose his tax returns – as every president for 40 years has done.
Finally, disclose all government payments made to individuals employed by President Trump and his family, and to companies and nonprofit entities owned or operated by President Trump and his family members.
While government expenditures typically are public record, it can be a costly and timely endeavor to fight federal bureaucrats for information. And the government often claims security exemptions.
Transparency isn’t something that can be supported only when it serves the president’s political purposes. That’s not transparency at all, but something quite different. And quite odious.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.