Why the whole of Washington is hyperventilating over a memo

Credit: PA

After frenzied speculation, the secret memo has made into the daylight. But it doesn’t bring clarity - only the greatest political food-fight that Washington has seen for years.

The President this morning ordered the document to be declassified, and Republicans Congressional investigators quickly released it.

So here is a quick guide to America’s latest political drama:

What is it?

The secret memo is a four page document (actually, three and a half) written by Republicans.

The contents examine how the FBI persuaded a federal judge to authorize surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

What did the FBI do?

Well, it’s what the Bureau didn’t do.

Republicans claim that the FBI did not make clear to the judge that the basis for the surveillance warrant was information from Christopher Steele, the former British MI6 officer.

The Steele dossier was funded in part by Democrats looking for dirt on Trump.

So what?

The underlying implication is that the FBI - America’s most respected law enforcement agency with a near-mythical status - was (in the words of Republicans) “politicized and weaponized” against the Trump Presidential campaign.

Essentially, the FBI used political gossip from one party to spy on another. That’s the explosive allegation.

What does the FBI say?

The Bureau says the memo is highly selective and misleading. Senior FBI officials begged Republicans not to release it - their pleas were ignored.

Democrats want to release their own interpretation.

What’s the connection to the Russia investigation being led by Robert Mueller?

That is disputed. Some say it has no connection. But most agree that the real Republican agenda is to muddy the waters and raise questions about the impartiality of the FBI.

If ordinary Americans can be persuaded to view the Bureau as an anti-Trump institution, staffed by leaders who have gone rogue, then Mueller’s conclusions can be dismissed as partisan politics.

That’s a stretch of course, but the White House needs a counter-attack strategy for the day that Mueller releases his conclusions.

What is Trump’s position?

He has already sacked one FBI Director (James Comey) and pretty much forced out the deputy director (Andy McCabe).

Trump appears to see the memo as a useful weapon to deploy against his perceived enemies inside the intelligence agencies. This is what he tweeted this morning (remember he appointed the very people he is attacking):

Why is the whole thing absurd?

Because Washington is being driven mad by the twists, turns and ironies.

Go back just over a year: It was the Democrats who were furious with the FBI. They believed Comey cost them the election by re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

Yet now, the FBI is accused by Trump allies of being a tool of the Democrats. Head-spinning stuff.

What happens next?

Frankly, who knows? The new FBI Director resigns? The intelligence agencies decide to take revenge and really do try and undermine the President?

Certainly, trust between America’s spy agencies and Congress has been broken.

At any rate, if this was written as a political thriller, the author would surely be told to simplify the plot.