Eli Lake

Russian Bots Are Right: Releasethememo

I agree with the Kremlin. Congress should #releasethememo, as they say on Russian Twitter. Vladimir Putin is dead wrong on Olympic drug testing, Crimean independence and Syrian genocide. But his bots have a point when it comes to the House Intelligence Committee.

For the uninitiated, Republican staff members on that committee drafted a summary of material turned over from the FBI and Department of Justice. This document reportedly alleges abuses in how the government wire-tapped Donald Trump's associates. Republican members who have seen the memo have told reporters it's worse than Watergate.

The committee's Democrats tell us not to believe them. They asked Twitter to investigate whether an army of Russian trolls helped promote the popular #releasethememo hash tag. They have drafted their own classified memo to counter the Republican one. All of this, they say, is just an effort to discredit the real investigation into Russian collusion.

So how do we find out who's telling the truth? Release both memos. I suspect we won't find evidence an American STASI took over the J. Edgar Hoover building. But Republicans have a point that there has been a lot of selective leaking about this probe for more than a year. Put the facts on the record and let the public decide.

While we're at it, the committee should report to the public on the Barack Obama administration's policy on unmasking redacted names of Americans swept up in signal intelligence. Remember when the chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes, made allegations of illicit activities last year? Let's see the evidence.

And don't stop there. The White House should release the transcript of the December 2016 communication between Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Did Flynn promise to lift the sanctions on Russia that Obama imposed a month before he left office? That's what the Democrats say. Let's find out.

Likewise, the Justice Department's inspector general should fully explain what agent Peter Sztrok meant in a text message sent before the election mentioning an "insurance policy" that had been discussed in the office of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. And the FBI should let us know who leaked Flynn's monitored conversations in the first place.

The republic is in great need of sunshine at the moment, particularly when it comes to Trump and Russia. Most of what we know about all of this is the result of selective disclosures. We get allegations, hearsay and process from current and former national security officials and members of Congress. They hint. They whisper. We're not authorized to see the evidence they've seen. So we end up in a state of suspended speculation. Enough.

Now of course it's true there are some government secrets worth keeping, like the identities of overseas agents or planned troop movements in a war. But the Trump-Russia story is a study in excessive secrecy. Usually the argument against excessive state secrecy is that it allows the government to hide its own abuse of power. And while that's true, another danger is that all these official secrets debase the discourse. Officials with security clearances influence public policy without the burden of proof. After all, it's classified.

Both sides do it. In the last year this tactic has become a specialty of Obama alumni who have implied -- without supporting evidence -- that Trump officials were suborned by Russian agents. See former CIA director John Brennan's congressional testimony from last May, saying unknown Trump associates had been witting or unwitting cooperators with these Russian influencers.

Trump does his own version of this shtick. He acts like a passive observer in his own government, tweeting accusations that the FBI has been spying on him, all while having the power to declassify the documents that would prove his allegations. We saw this last week at the House Intelligence Committee. Republican members tell us how shocked they are to learn what they can't really tell us.

You've likely heard this complaint about Nunes. In the last year, the committee's chairman has gotten more bad press than an oil spill. His Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff, also likes to talk about what he knows but cannot say. Schiff, though, gets a pass from most of the media. Remember last March when he told MSNBC that he had seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign. That set off a whirr at the time. It's been nearly a year, where is it?

Last month Schiff tried to back up these claims. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece he tied together some of what we do know about Trump and Russia: that Russians approached Donald Trump Jr. promising to distort Hillary Clinton's image; that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak; and that Kremlin-associated figures had also approached a low-level staffer, George Papadopoulos. All of this added together is suggestive, but it remains firmly circumstantial.

Schiff would probably say I sound like a Russian hashtag.

"The Russians, who are pushing the campaign to declassify this information through its social media bots and trolls, will no doubt be thrilled" if the Republican memo is made public, Schiff warned Wednesday. But he added, if that were to happen, "we would have to insist that our memorandum be likewise made public so that the entire nation is not then misled.”

In other words: #releasebothmemos. Sounds like a good start to me.