The controversial memo released by House Intelligence Committee Republicans raised more questions than it definitively answered. Some of its most important points, such as the centrality of a dossier to the surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser and whether the FISA courts understood that document’s partisan origins, are already in dispute.
What is beyond dispute is that some of the lawmakers most exercised about the surveillance of Carter Page seem awfully comfortable with government surveillance powers more broadly.
It’s a point libertarian-leaning Republicans in the House made repeatedly on Friday.
“While I applaud the release of this memo, I also call for Congress to take immediate action to help prevent such behavior in the future,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in a statement. “It is imperative it start by listening to Americans who have expressed outrage over its disregard for the Fourth Amendment and reexamining the powers it reauthorized right before we learned of the memo. Continuing to ignore the Constitution will only guarantee that others fall victim to government abusing its domestic surveillance powers.”
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., asked why there was a big push to reauthorize FISA Section 702 if they were so sure abuses were occurring.
Amash dinged his own party’s leaders, but pointed out the reauthorization effort was bipartisan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., both outraged that the memo was released, were on the same side of the FISA debate as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
(Nunes memorably called Amash “al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress” during a previous NSA surveillance debate.)
I'm glad that the Republican memo has been released. It makes many conclusory assertions, some of which are serious.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) February 2, 2018
“My question: who made the decision to withhold evidence of FISA abuse until after Congress voted to renew FISA program?” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., asked on Twitter.
Situational libertarianism has been the norm in Washington for years. Politicians are most likely to complain about prosecutors and federal agents run amuck when a member of their own party, especially the president, is the target.
Law and order versus civil liberties debates often play out similarly. Some politicians who protest police brutality, especially when racially motivated, are among the least likely to worry about whether a low-level Trump adviser was surveilled based on information sourced to a rival campaign.
Others who argue such concerns are tantamount to calling the police racist have no problem believing law enforcement would abuse its power when the alleged victim is President Trump or someone in his orbit.
Look how quickly former FBI Director James Comey went from being a villain among Democrats due the Hillary Clinton email investigation to a hero vis-a-vis Trump.
Republicans have undergone a similar metamorphosis in their Comey views since Trump took office.
“The FBI in particular has a long history of abusing its power and the results of that show up in polls mostly showing a massive lack of confidence in it,” observed Reason’s Nick Gillespie.
If you don’t want Trump to be able to exercise certain powers, then you should never have given them to former President Barack Obama. If you don’t want Obama — or Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California, or whichever Democrat most frightens you in 2020 — exercising them, they should not be bestowed on Trump.
Even decent, well-meaning people can abuse power. And bad people can come to wield to power too.
“If you look at my positions, I had the same position under President Obama that I have under President Trump, and that is that the power to listen to people’s conservation — your private conversation — are private and nobody else’s business, and the government should not reveal that,” Paul told “The View” Friday.
Paul added that the victims of surveillance abuse were less likely to be powerful people in a presidential campaign but “minorities of opinion” and “minorities of color.”
Consistency on these questions regardless of which party holds the White House sure seems to qualify one as a minority of opinion in 2018.
But maybe our politicians just didn’t get the memo.