The Golden State’s ties to the fight over a classified Russia memo
President Donald Trump made it clear Tuesday night that he’s decided to make public a sensitive memo that alleges bias by FBI agents in the ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. voters in 2016.
“One-hundred percent,” Trump is heard on camera after his State of the Union speech, telling a South Carolina congressman of his intent to declassify the secret document
That decision would directly conflict with Trump’s own Justice Department and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who have argued that it would be reckless to release the memo without a thorough review.
Trump could make the memo, which reportedly supports his view that the investigation is politically motivated, public as early as the end of this week. The House of Representatives has the power to override the president, but that is considered as likely as a year in California without earthquakes.
This drama—rife with conflict between the White House, Congress and the FBI, with a central question about the Trump team’s involvement with a hostile foreign power—is juicy enough on its own. But it holds an even greater level of significance for the largest state in the union, given the role that two California members of Congress are playing.
Here’s a refresher:
The memo was engineered by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, who heads the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes, a close ally of the president’s, has represented a conservative Central Valley district since 2003.
Nunes generated considerable controversy in April 2017 when he was forced to step away from directing the Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign team. That move followed allegations that Nunes had improperly disclosed classified information during a secret meeting at the White House the previous month.
The House Ethics Committee cleared Nunes of wrongdoing in December, paving the way for him to return to his previous role as head of the Russia influence investigation.
“While I appreciate the Ethics Committee’s work, I need to reiterate that the allegations against me were obviously frivolous and were rooted in politically motivated complaints filed against me by left-wing activist groups,” Nunes said in a statement released by his office.
The other key California player is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank. He has been vocal about the dangers of the panel wading into partisan warfare on Capitol Hill, at a time when special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling appears to be gaining momentum.
“As Mueller and his team move closer to the president and his inner circle, a sense of panic is palpable on the Hill,” Schiff said this week in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. “GOP members recognize that the probe not only threatens the president but also their majorities in Congress as well.”
Schiff, a former state senator in Sacramento, argued that the memo compromises intelligence sources and sets the stage for the White House to fire Mueller.
As this drama picks up steam, Schiff is scheduled to be in Sacramento later this month to address the Sacramento Press Club. He’s sure to face questions about a potential constitutional crisis and whether both parties are guilty of partisanship in this regard.