n the rapidly escalating war between the GOP and the FBI, a number of House Republicans appear to believe they’ve discovered their own atomic bomb: a memorandum produced by the staff of Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes. The memo, according to several Republican members who’ve read it, purports to document scandalous political abuse of surveillance powers, part of a wider conspiracy against Donald Trump within the bureau. In a phrase widely echoed on Trump-friendly media, Rep. Steve King (R–Iowa) has suggested that the conduct revealed in the memo amounts to a scandal “worse than Watergate.” Now—yielding to a social media campaign they themselves launched—House Republicans have voted to #ReleaseTheMemo, despite a warning from the Justice Department that doing so would be “extraordinarily reckless.”
While the details remain fuzzy, the memo reportedly finds particular fault with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order the bureau obtained to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and above all its purported reliance on the now-infamous Steele dossier. Named for Christopher Steele—the former MI6 officer who compiled it at the behest of commercial intelligence firm Fusion GPS—the dossier originated as opposition research into Trump’s ties to the Russian government, funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. CNN reported back in April that the memo was “used to bolster” the bureau’s case for a warrant on Page before the FISA court, leading many Trump boosters to conclude that the whole of the Russia investigation is little more than the extension of a Democratic hit job, employing underhanded tactics borrowed from J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO playbook.