The narrative surrounding House Intel Democrats’ memo, which was unanimously approved for release yesterday, took a bizarre turn Tuesday on the set of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. During an interview with Democrat Intel Committee member Eric Swalwell, Joe Scarborough and fellow panel members abruptly began to question whether the new memo, authored by Committee Minority Leader Adam Schiff, ought to see the light of day.
In the days leading up to the release of Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’s memo, there was a virtually media-wide consensus that not only should the Democrats’ rebuttal be made public as well, but the release of Nunes’s document ought to be delayed so that the two could be released simultaneously. Even after the Nunes memo was declassified and subsequently dubbed a nothing burger by members of the press, the notion that the House Democrats’ side of the story ought to be released to the public was practically a foregone conclusion.
Scarborough challenged this consensus opinion Tuesday with a series of adversarial questions for Congressman Swalwell:
Congressman, I don’t understand. Most of us around the table thought it was a terrible idea to release the Nunes memo, and after it was released it was – in modern parlance – a nothing burger... Why reveal more sources if the Nunes memo was much ado about nothing?
Swalwell explained that the Democrat memo’s release was motivated by a concern for the FBI’s credibility, which he seemed to suggest was a goal worth compromising sources for. “I saw numbers this morning that the public’s view of the FBI, particularly among Republicans, has been tainted,” he explained. “Our memo bolsters their credibility for this investigation only. But I agree with you, this is a dangerous road."
Scarborough appeared unsatisfied with the Congressman’s response and pushed the issue further. “You’re going to expose sources and processes based on a snap poll released after Nunes’s bizarre memo?” he bawked.
After the interview, Scarborough continued to harp on the issue:
I don’t understand, I really don’t. You can’t say we have to do this to defend the FBI and the Justice Department on the one hand, and on the other hand say, “Well, that Nunes memo was a bomb.” It was a bomb! The Nunes memo sets up a timeline that hurts Donald Trump, so why should the Democrats continue down this flawed path? This dangerous path?
Washington Post editor Eugene Robinson suggested that House Democrats were acting on an “impulse to correct the record,” but he agreed that releasing a second memo would “create an occasion to talk about this nothing burger.”
Scarborough’s pugnacious questioning of Congressman Swalwell uncovered – perhaps inadvertently – a series of glaring contradictions in the narrative about the Nunes memo. The rationale for opposing the memo’s release given by the media, the Democrats, and indeed the FBI, was that it would have drastic implications for national security and compromise sources and methods. Upon the memo’s release, the narrative rapidly shifted to the current media characterization: that it was a ‘nothing burger.’ Even former FBI director James Comey parroted this sentiment in a tweet on the day the Nunes memo went public.
Now, however, these parties must reconcile their stated concern for national security and their belief that the Nunes memo was wholly ineffectual with their support for the release of a second, more detailed memo – one which, by Congressman Swalwell’s own admission, reveals sources and methods. Scarborough’s line of questioning for the Congressman reflected this reconciliation, and evidently, it has caused him to withdraw his support for declassifying the Schiff memo. It remains to be seen whether this new shift in support will play out elsewhere within the greater media sphere.