Why Did President Trump Want to Release the Nunes Memo?

Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released the Nunes memo sometime last week with the intentions of clearing Trump from wrongdoing in the Russia investigation.
Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. PHOTO: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Smoke and mirrors.  That is the modus operandi of the Trump administration. From its former advisors Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, all the way up to Trump himself lying from the bully pulpit, this administration loves to operate under the cover of smoke and mirrors.  The Trump Administration took the reigns of the government 378 days before the release of the Nunes Memo.  It was on the 378th day of Trump’s presidency, that the administration created the thickest smoke, and crafted the largest mirrors that Washington had seen for quite some time.


The Nunes Memo is a three and a half page document previously classified by the United States government.  It’s called the Nunes memo because it was Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who released it after it was declassified by President Trump, against the will of the intelligence community. This memorandum asserts that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice (DOJ) unlawfully initiated the investigation of possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.  To do good investigative work, the FBI and the DOJ needed warrants to keep surveillance on persons of interest, that is persons likely to be knowledgeable of, or directly involved in, collusion.  The memo highlights that one of those people of interest was a former foreign policy advisor to Trump, Carter Page.

The release of this memo is monumental for multiple reasons, but there are two especially crucial reasons. The first reason being that President Trump spontaneously declassified the documents (which is well within his power as head of the Executive Branch) against the advice of the FBI in a statement released two days prior to the release of the memo.  The second and perhaps the more substantial reason of the two crucial ones, is that the investigation that this memo seeks to discredit, undermine, and bury, is what you know as the “Russia Investigation.”

Strategy Analysis

So why was the memo release the work of a political mastermind?  The author of this memo is reported by the New York Times to be Kashyap Patel, a man with a history of being at the center of controversy.  What Mr. Patel unearthed in his analyzation of the Russia Investigation and crafting of his memo, was that the Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Convention were the ones who commissioned the creation of the Steele Dossier, better known as the “Russia Dossier.”  The FBI and the DOJ then used this collection of documents, created with partisan intentions by partisan political actors, to obtain warrants to surveil Carter Page.  

By exposing this, Trump is launching a two-pronged attack in his strongest attempt to destroy the Russian investigation yet.  The prongs of the attack are designated to target two different people.  The first prong is to provide those who do not follow the news too closely with the narrative that he is being treated unfairly and that his base is, therefore, being treated unfairly. He has been feeding this narrative since the launch of his campaign, and this memo is but another chapter in that book.

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 The second prong, is for those who follow the news more closely, and are more well-informed, but are tired of a deadlocked, partisan government.  This prong yields less benefits than the first prong which helps him regain the base that he was rapidly losing prior to the State of the Union. His tweets on the matter consist of him quoting op-eds that call the Russia Investigation a “witch hunt” and a “tool of anti-Trump political actors.”  Nonetheless, the second prong could be useful.  Whoever developed the strategy for this leak and what needed to be accomplished, most likely took into account the fact that the average American is weary of Washington’s prolonged, partisan, political deadlock, regardless of what party said average American affiliates with. 

This is why it is beneficial to sell the story from the starting point that the Democrats were conspiring with intelligence agencies and that this was another outcome of Washington’s prolonged, partisan, political deadlock, rather than Trump making himself the center of attention.  If Trump had spun the story in this way, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie might have been more likely to throw support behind him, but he didn’t, and so it failed. Since the release, several political actors, including the aforementioned two, have been wary to support him.  Chris Christie even went so far as to say that this memo does not clear Trump from the Russia Investigation at all, the very thing that the Trump team planned for this memo to do.  All things considered, this memo release was the work of a mastermind, but because the execution was poor, Trump still fails to escape from the ever-expanding jaws of Bob Mueller.   

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