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Will releasing the Nunes memo come with long-term consequences?

Should the White House release a controversial memo about the Russia investigation? The president's plan to make it public ignores concerns of the FBI and highlights a public rift between him and the Department of Justice. Judy Woodruff gets debate from Michael Mukasey, former attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, and Jeffrey Smith, former general counsel at the CIA.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We dig into the debate now over President Trump’s plan to release a controversial memo, ignoring concerns of the FBI, and highlighting a public rift between the White House and the Department of Justice.

    We get two perspectives.

    Michael Mukasey served as U.S. attorney general during the George W. Bush administration. And Jeffrey Smith served as general counsel for the CIA during the Clinton administration.

    And we welcome both of you to the NewsHour. Thank you for being here.

    General Mukasey, to you first.

    Why do you favor the release of this confidential memo?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    Well, I think given all the blood and ink that’s been spilled over it so far, and the fact that the FBI, although they started out by saying that there were national security concerns, is now saying that, well, the memo is distorted, but not that there are national security concerns, given all of that, let it get out.

    Obviously, there will be a countermemo. Let that get out, too. I can’t see at this point trying to cover it up, because too much has been said already.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I should stipulate that neither of you have seen this memo. It’s been held within the intelligence community and within the House of Representatives.

    But, Jeffrey Smith, given what General Mukasey is saying, why not let this memo out?

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    Well, ideally, we would start over again. But we can’t do that.

    I would like to see this dealt with in regular order, which is to say, for Mr. Nunes to have referred to the matter to the inspector general or to the court itself.

    The fact that we are where we are, it probably should come out. Then, in turn, the Democrats should put their — have their memo reviewed and that put out. But that really won’t end the debate, because the larger question here is one of the proper role of congressional oversight.

    And my concern is that the manner in which this has been done undermines the effectiveness of oversight and, frankly, demeans the whole process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is it about the manner in which it was done that bothers you?

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    That it was so obviously done for partisan political reasons.

    The procedure that was followed was put in place so that the committee could release information that was classified that the president didn’t want released. This is the first time this has ever been done.

    Here, we seem to have a situation where the president wants this out. But I really worry about the integrity of the process on the part of the people at the CIA, the court and the FBI, who are looking at this, thinking, we’re being turned into a political football. And they don’t like it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that a concern for you at all, General Mukasey?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    It is a concern.

    I think, though that it ought to be pointed out, in fairness, that this didn’t pop out of a vacuum, that initially the intelligence agencies, including particularly the FBI, slow-walked and stonewalled when it came to producing information that the committee was entitled to in exercising its oversight.

    That, in turn, led to the back and forth that’s resulted in the memo.

    That said, I think that it’s unfortunate. And I agree with Jeff Smith that this is not the way that good-order oversight is supposed to proceed. Certainly, it’s not what was envisioned by the people who put the system in place, back when it was originally put into place back in the ’70s.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     How do you know, though, that the Justice Department, the FBI didn’t have a good reason for taking their time in turning this over?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    I don’t. I have heard from — I mean, I have heard from people who are involved in demanding the documents that were ultimately turned over that there was no particular reason for delay, other than delay for its own sake.

  • Judy Woodruff:

     Well, what about that point, Jeffrey Smith, that the agencies, they could have more — they could have worked better and more cooperatively with the Congress?

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    It’s hard to answer that because I don’t know precisely what documents the Congress wanted.

    If the Congress was wanting detailed applications to the FISA court, I would understand a reluctance to turn that over. On the other hand, I used to work in the Senate, so I’m very much in favor of the executive branch cooperating with the Congress.

    This oversight only works if there is trust between the two branches of government. And, here, it’s failed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, speaking of that, General Mukasey, here we have a president, in essence, now going up against his own Justice Department, his own — or the FBI. Is there something disturbing about this dynamic that we’re watching?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    Of course there’s something disturbing about it, and we don’t — that’s not something we want to see.

    But it has begun, and it’s going to have to play out until one or the other is proved right or until they both stop.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why does it bother you?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    It bothers me because the FBI is supposed to be and is the premier law enforcement agency, as well as a member of the intelligence community.

    It didn’t become a member of the intelligence community until after 9/11, so that’s a relatively new function for them. And to have this going on at this particular time is not good for the security of the country or for law enforcement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it doesn’t bother you enough that you don’t think this memo should be withheld?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    Withholding the memo isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s going to exacerbate it.

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    It will leak in any event.

    I mean, the memo, there are so many people who now know it, it would probably leak.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even if it weren’t released.

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    I think so. I think the prudent thing is to get them out.

    But I think, if they’re really serious about this issue of was the FISA court misled, that is a serious issue. And that ought to be looked at, perhaps even by the court appointing a special master to look at it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you have said that before. I was reading that you have said you thought that could be — there is concern about what happened here.

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what about this question that I posed to General Mukasey, this spectacle or this scene of the president going up against, very publicly, the Justice Department, the FBI?

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    It’s deeply disturbing.

    And think how we would look at another country if we saw that going on in their country. I think our allies look at this with mortification, and our enemies look at it with delight.

    Are we really a reliable partner these days if secret information is given to us by our very closest allies and it winds up becoming politicized for domestic political reasons here? It’s really not good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you worry about long-term harm?

  • Michael Mukasey:

    I worry about long-term harm to the oversight process.

    So far as what’s in the memo and what leaks out, I don’t know that any of that is information that was imparted by foreign countries. But it’s certainly — I think Jeffrey is correct — it doesn’t enhance their confidence in us to see this kind of struggle going on, when they have to cooperate on the ground by disclosing information, having information disclosed to them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very quickly, Jeffrey Smith, do you think this kind of thing can be avoided in the future, or are we just expecting to see more?

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    I hope we learn from this and we don’t do it again.

    One has to expect — I mean, the basic deal here is that both sides are going to act responsibly. And I have to hope that the Congress will act responsibly in the future. I do not think they have in this instance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jeffrey Smith, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, gentlemen, thank you both.

  • Michael Mukasey:

    Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Smith:

    Thank you.

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