Analysis: Why the FISA Memo Release is Controversial

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Depending on your view, there are at least two reasons why the FISA memo release is controversial. 

If you’re concerned about whether the intelligence and law enforcement communities unfairly targeted then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, the memo offers a glimpse into what FBI critics call an abuse of power by the Obama administration.

On the other hand, some will see the memo as a politically motivated move by congressional Republicans to cast doubt on Robert Mueller’s investigation into any illegal linkages between President Trump and the Russian government.  

But really, I think viewers should keep three things in mind about all of this.

First, making information about government investigations as public as possible is a check on any future abuses occurring. This is why I think releasing the memo — incomplete as Democrats claim it is — is still a good idea.

Second, nothing in this memo changes anything about the Mueller investigation. The memo in no way casts doubt on what the special prosecutor is doing. At best, it suggests that FBI and intelligence officials may have been eager to find a link between Trump operatives and Russia, but none of this touches Mueller. 

Third, investigations are, by nature, imperfect human endeavors. To act like every request for a court warrant is a political abuse of power is exactly the kind of thinking that erodes the rule of law. Everything in government becomes a partisan matter. 

Is this release pretty much unprecedented? 

It is, but, more than just being new, it sets the bar lower and lower in our politics. Now, just like we’ve seen with the local accusations of wrong-doing involving county government and the sheriff’s office, one really should be concerned about the public losing trust is the basic institutions that hold society together. 

This is why I think there’s a lot of good and bad that will come from Friday’s memo. The release itself brings in some sunshine that might be needed, but I’m worried it will have long-term corrosive consequences for the public’s trust.

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