The Debate On The Democrats' Memo NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with former George W. Bush White House lawyer Jamil Jaffer about President Trump's decision not to release a Democratic memo about the FBI.

The Debate On The Democrats' Memo

The Debate On The Democrats' Memo

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NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with former George W. Bush White House lawyer Jamil Jaffer about President Trump's decision not to release a Democratic memo about the FBI.


If you thought the fight over the FBI's Russia investigation couldn't get any more contentious, this past week, of course, it did. The White House has refused to declassify a competing Democratic memo that challenges claims made by the Republicans alleging bias and abuse in the FBI. President Trump had given the OK to release the GOP memo. Both documents are products of infighting within the House intelligence committee. Jamil Jaffer was a lawyer in the White House under President George W. Bush. And he was senior counsel to the House intel committee. He joins us from Colorado today. Welcome to the program.

JAMIL JAFFER: Thanks. Good to be here, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've called this a, quote, "massive strategic miscalculation on the part of the White House." Why?

JAFFER: Look. I mean, part of the challenge here is the president is alleging that there was massive corruption at the FBI, at the Justice Department - an attempt to engage in political surveillance. And by allowing one side's memo to come out - the House Republicans' memo to come out - without releasing the House Democrats' memo, it plays into that partisan narrative. And as a result, it discredits the ability to make the point that there was - whether there was or was not, in fact, problems with the FBI.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last week, the intelligence community was up in arms over the idea that the GOP memo would see the light of day and claimed it would be a truly damaging document to national security. And that turned out not to be the case. Why aren't they up in arms over the Democratic memo, too?

JAFFER: Well, look. I mean, I think that's the issue, you know? The problem here is that once you're going to release the target of the intelligence collection and details about the basis of that intelligence collection, it makes sense to get as much of the information out there as possible, so the American public can judge what exactly took place. So not only do I think the Democratic memo should be declassified with appropriate redactions, but I also think it's important that we declassify now the FISA application because the most important information about that application is who the target was. And now we know that. And that's been declassified by the president. And so there really seems to be no good reason why the American people can't get the full story here and really be able to evaluate it themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can we evaluate this properly without getting the Democratic memo and the underlying intelligence? Can, you know, you, for example, give an opinion on whether or not the FBI has overreached and acted in a partisan way without those things?

JAFFER: You know, my instinct, having worked through the FISA process is that there - I have not seen massive errors in the process or massive corruption. But, you know, there's the possibility that something untoward happened here or that the FBI or the Justice Department could've been potentially more forthcoming with the court. And if that's the case, then let's figure out what's going on. And let's make reforms if needed. But my concern here is that by not releasing Democrats' memo and by not releasing, ultimately, that FISA application, the president and the White House and the House Republicans look like we're playing to a partisan narrative. And we're not allowing the American people to get full access to the information to make that judgment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think's driving this, though - this deeply partisan divide about this particular investigation?

JAFFER: Neither side is as pure as driven snow on this, right? Obviously, Chairman Nunes has released a report now without the other side's report coming out. Ranking member Schiff has not exactly been nonpartisan. He's been very aggressive, you know, brawling right back at Nunes. And the problem here is that we're facing a concerted effort by the Russians to undermine our own faith in our electoral system. And unfortunately, both political parties are playing into that very effort unintentionally but are doing so. And that's what's really unfortunate. We've got to get past this partisan division, recognize we're under continuing attack by another nation-state. And we need to work together as a country to prevent that from going further.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jamil Jaffer is the founder of the National Security Institute and director of the National Security Law and Policy program at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. Thank you so much.

JAFFER: Thanks, Lulu.

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