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Unpacking The Memo


We begin this morning with continued fallout from the Republican memo released by House intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes. A top House Democrat, Jerry Nadler of New York, has written a rebuttal to the memo, calling it deliberately misleading and deeply wrong on the law. Nadler told NPR last night that he thinks Republicans are trying to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference.


JERRY NADLER: I don't believe anything that comes out of the White House. We've seen them say that they never threatened Mueller. But we know that the president tried to fire Mueller and was stopped by his counsel. They have used this memo to throw mud against the FBI and against the investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is being called, by some, an unprecedented move - a president attacking his own government agencies.

LIASSON: Yes, it is unprecedented. This is the president going after his handpicked FBI director, his handpicked deputy attorney general and attorney general. He's not just going after the special counsel. He's going after entire democratic institutions, trying to undermine faith in the Department of Justice and the FBI. And what's even more unprecedented is that the Republicans - the party of law and order - are following his lead.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why do that? What's the purpose? And what are the potential consequences?

LIASSON: Well, the purpose certainly isn't to educate the public on the intricacies of the FISA application process. The purpose is to discredit the Mueller investigation and convince enough of the public that it's unfair to the president and that its conclusions - if they are negative to the president - should be dismissed or ignored. And associates of the president and Republicans that I've talked to believe that firing Mueller would be catastrophic politically for the president.

You know, Lindsey Graham said that it would be the end of the Trump presidency. So second best is to undermine the investigation itself. It's kind of a political insurance policy. And the other potential consequence, which many former FBI agents are warning about, is that the FBI's ability to fight crime might be compromised by this. Why would a jury listen to the testimony of an FBI agent if the president of the United States says that the FBI's reputation is in tatters?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But I thought Paul Ryan said this memo is merely congressional oversight - not meant to be an indictment of the DOJ or Mueller.

LIASSON: Yes, that's also confusing. Oversight is important and necessary. And abuses in any agency can and do occur. But just hours after Paul Ryan said that, the president started tweeting and undercut him, saying that the top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans. So Republicans can't have this both ways.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, you mentioned the word confusing. And I think for anyone not closely following this story, it can be confusing. I thought around the election, the accusation was that the FBI was supposed to be biased against Clinton, and that may have cost her the election.

LIASSON: Yes, this is very confusing. Don't forget, in May, the White House said the official reason for firing Jim Comey was that he had been unfair to Hillary Clinton. So I guess what they're trying to say is during the campaign, the FBI was biased against Clinton. And then after the campaign, they turned around and became biased against Donald Trump - doesn't make a lot of sense.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson, who does make a lot of sense, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.