One plus one equals two agendas

It is no more than fair play that the House Intelligence Committee has approved declassification of a memo Democrats say counterbalances the memorandum released Friday by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and debated all weekend on television and Twitter.

A Republican memo plus a Democratic memo does not equal bipartisanship, any more than "separate but equal" compares to integration. Rather, it dramatizes the fragmented agenda of the committee, which is supposed to be analyzing the results of a Justice Department investigation into  collusion with the Russians by the Trump election campaign and obstruction of justice.

The Intelligence Committee voted Monday evening to send the Democrats' memo to the president for declassification. If Trump agrees, release of the memo could provide context for the wildly varying interpretations of the contents of the Nunes memo. People don't know what to think. But we deplore the partisanship that is breaking Congress, derailing the Intelligence Committee and sowing confusion about the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the investigation.

The release of the Nunes memo was the latest dangerous example of the partisanship that is fracturing Congress and breaking down norms developed over the two centuries of the republic. At least, it was the latest until Monday, when the president used his tweet megaphone to blare a personal attack on Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, as Schiff prepared to seek release of the second memo. The president is clearly using the attack as a means to halt release of the Democrat memo and ultimately the investigation.

On Friday Republicans on the committee and in the White House ended days of speculation and pleas to respect the legitimate processes of investigation by declassifying and releasing the memo prepared by Republican staff members of the committee. The president declared himself "vindicated" by the memo in regard to the investigation.

Others, Republican and Democrat, offered additional facts and milder interpretations on the weekend talk shows. What emerges is a picture of what they should be discussing behind the closed doors of a body entrusted with an organized search for the truth, checking the facts, establishing the timelines, following the threads that ultimately provide evidence.

The Nunes memo is premature. It is selective of what it reports, squishy on the timelines and inconclusive on what it all means. The most that can be hoped for from the Democrats' memo is some idea of what facts the two sides agree on, as a basis for picking up and going ahead.

In his ever more shrill practice of remaking facts into his own preferred narrative, the president moved from "vindication" to ominous murmurs against Schiff, whom he compared to other villains in his personal drama, all of whom have held leadership positions in the fields of intelligence and justice.

From the top of the Justice Department, on the other hand, the only sound to be heard may have been Attorney General Jeff Sessions clearing his throat. Sessions, appointed by and then belittled by the president, has avoided showing support for the investigatory team, including FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and the man who oversees Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Past attorneys general have stood up to other bullyish presidents and supported investigators and prosecutors in their assigned duties.

Friday's release has opened the door to far more than the release of the opposition memo. It has the potential to cause a legal earthquake regarding the ways in which secrecy is used to manage sensitive information. On Monday the New York Times asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to unseal documents regarding Carter Page, the former Trump campaign advisor who is a subject of the Nunes memo. The Times and the Yale Law School Freedom of Information Access Clinic argue that the president's action to declassify the material opened a legal window on public access to records not normally even known to exist.

Republicans in Congress in one year have become the Party of Trump. The purpose of the investigation is to root out Russian interference and influence in the very machinery that put them in office. In nine months the entire House and a third of the Senate will be on the ballot. For incumbents the questions ought to be, whose party is it, anyway? What did the Russians do, who helped them do it, and who knew what when? 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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