The presidential order for the Justice Department to declassify significant materials from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election is a poke in the department’s eye — again.
President Trump is using the power of the presidency to help himself, cruelly using the shield of “transparency” to hide the not-well-hidden intentions of a coterie of Republican congressmen to undercut the Special Counsel investigation.
What’s worse, from the description of the pages to be released over the objection of the Justice Department is information that already has been chewed over and spit out as cherry-picked and basically wrong.
There are any number of public issues at play here. Among them, this move represents an unprecedented move by the White House to declassify intelligence documents in the midst of an active case; the fact that the case at hand involves the White House; the use of the documents to challenge the legitimacy of the investigation itself; and the twisting of facts in the service of partisan ends.
As things stand, the Justice Department has been cautious in response. “The Justice Department offered a somewhat muted initial reaction, saying in a statement that such a command from the president ‘triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community,’ and officials were ‘already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President’s order,’ ” reported The Washington Post. It was unclear how soon these documents, which largely include portions of documents submitted to get federal warrants for surveillance on Trump associate Carter Page.
The Republican group and Trump himself have been very vocal in arguing that the FISA court warrants for surveillance relied unduly on an unproved dossier from a former British spy with expertise on Russia. They argue that the dossier and the surveillance were the start of the Special Counsel investigation, which differs from the explanation that it began after another Trump counselor, George Papadopolous, who has pleaded guilty, shared his pursuit to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russians.
Trump also instructed the department to publicly release unredacted text messages of several former high-level Justice Department and FBI officials, including former FBI director James B. Comey Jr. and deputy director Andrew McCabe as well as interviews with the FBI’s Bruce G. Ohr, who has become a Trump target for having met with the author of the dossier.
Congressional reaction split along the expected partisan lines. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the order a “clear abuse of power.” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who has called for the release of the material, praised the move.
Washington Post columnist Jenifer Rubin called it a violation of Trump’s oath of office. “Trump’s actions constitute such a grave violation of his oath to “take care” that laws are faithfully executed, his decision raises constitutional concerns. Certainly, this is yet another action that triggers the threshold event of a House Judiciary Committee inquiry into abuse of power” she argued.
“The move is unprecedented. Never have we seen a president declassify documents in contravention of clear warnings from the intelligence community that doing so would harm national security. That this occurs in yet another effort to derail an investigation into his own wrongdoing, and to smear law enforcement officials, only underscores the degree to which Trump now puts his own political survival above the security of the American people,” Rubin added.
Columnist Greg Sargent argued that the move would explode in Trump’s face because the attempt to twist facts already disproved would fail.“In reality, this is an effort at obfuscation, concealment, deception, and the weaponizing of the oversight process for “partisan political ends.” If recent precedent is any guide, the release itself will broadly confirm this — even though Trump and his allies will lie uncontrollably to the contrary.”
He added, “We’ve already been down this road. When the FISA applications for Page surveillance were released in a redacted form a few months ago, it confirmed what Democrats had been saying, and debunked what Trump allies had claimed. It showed that the FBI had, in fact, disclosed the political motives behind the Steele dossier and had given the FISA judges the info they needed to evaluate Steele’s credibility. It also showed that judges had renewed the application numerous times, meaning the wiretaps were bearing investigative fruit.”
Now that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, Michael Cohen, his lawyer/fixer, Michael T. Flynn, his one-time National Security Adviser, all have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel, Trump and his legal team must be feeling relatively cornered. We can expect more desperate attempts to undercut Justice efforts.