After weeks of threatening to act, President Trump last week finally demanded the declassification of key documents related to the Justice Department’s investigation of his campaign team. The White House wants the DOJ to disclose specific passages contained in the final renewal of the FISA application to wiretap Carter Page; the reports made by former assistant Attorney General Bruce Ohr in connection with the probe; and text messages from several officials, including former FBI Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe.
The directive was a welcome—and long overdue—step in the congressional investigation into how the nation’s law enforcement and foreign intelligence apparatus was weaponized against the Trump campaign and his incoming administration.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and several of his colleagues have been pushing to get the documents released to the public. “If the president wants the American people to really understand just how broad and invasive this investigation has been to many Americans, and how unfair it has been, he has no choice but to declassify,” Nunes told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News last Sunday. Trump issued his order the next day; Democrats and the media were outraged, as by now we know is their custom, and made up all kinds of excuses as to why the information should remain under seal, including a supposed potential threat to national security and a way, allegedly, to undermine the special counsel’s farcical investigation into Russian election collusion.
Unfortunately, the president now is backtracking. In two tweets Friday afternoon, Trump said that he has instructed the department’s inspector general to “review these documents on an expedited basis.” The retreat came amid concerns expressed by Justice officials and “key allies,” whose role in the Trump-Russia collusion set-up is getting serious scrutiny. The president did suggest he wants the documents released quickly, but set no deadline. (There is now an interesting sideshow playing out in the media between Camp Rosenstein and Camp McCabe that undoubtedly is related to declassification.)
No Justice for Carter Page?
Trump’s slow-walk is disappointing because time is running out. If Republicans lose the House in November, the entire investigation will be shut down and turned against the administration and members of Congress, including Nunes, who have taken a courageous lead to uncover this stunning tale of rampant political bias and corruption.
The public’s interest also may be waning as the media continues to ignore and/or justify this scandal. Threats made by other congressional leaders seem to be lots of talk with no action. (What is the status, for example, of the criminal referral on dossier author Christopher Steele, forwarded to the Justice Department in January?)
While the political world pretends to want justice for a mystery woman trying to destroy Brett Kavanaugh with dubious allegations of an ancient incident, it seems uninterested in the attempt—of much more recent vintage—by the Obama Administration to destroy people such as Carter Page, an international energy consultant who briefly volunteered for the campaign as a foreign policy advisor. Page has been harassed and mocked by lawmakers and by the media; his privacy rights were violated; he’s received numerous death threats, and his professional and personal life have greatly suffered.
The former naval officer and Eagle Scout was called an “agent of a foreign power”—essentially, a traitor—by his own country. The most powerful people in the U.S. government, from James Comey to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, attested to that accusation. He was spied on for a year. “The understandable outrage voiced by honest, hardworking men and women across America made these initial steps to reign in government corruption inevitable,” Page told me in response to Trump’s announcement on Monday. “There is much work to be done.”
What Trump Wants
When the full FISA application against Page was released in July, it was heavily redacted. It confirmed what Nunes laid out in his controversial February memo about the use of the Steele dossier and the FBI’s failure to notify the secret court about the political origins of the information. (Important to note the similar outcry about releasing Nunes’s memo from the same cabal now protesting Trump’s order.) The document is an alarmingly weak assemblance of so-called evidence. What planet are we on when a Yahoo News article is used to substantiate the government’s claim that an American is a Russian spy?
Trump specifically wants pages 10 through 12 and pages 17 through 34 of the final FISA application against Page to be unredacted. Pages 10 through 12 addressed why “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election were being coordinated with Page.” Could this have been information furnished by Steele, who was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on Trump? Could it expose the tactics used by FBI informants who were hired to infiltrate the Trump campaign in early 2016? Since it refers to Page’s relationships with “Russian Government officials,” it almost certainly relied on the politically-sourced and unverified Steele dossier as evidence.
Pages 17 through 34 are heavily redacted and clearly include dossier-sourced material. It is amazing that the FBI continued to use Steele’s work even after they fired him in late October 2016 for violating their terms by talking to the American news media. But Trump must know that there is incriminating information behind those redactions that have nothing to do with protecting national security and everything to do with protecting the architects of this fiasco.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) hinted who that might be. “I’ve read it [the unredacted FISA application],” Gowdy told Fox News’ Bret Baier on September 20. “Some of it is embarrassing for the Department of Justice. Some of it is embarrassing for the FBI. Embarrassment is not a reason to classify something. A lot of it should be embarrassing to John Brennan.” The former CIA director has been a vicious and outspoken foe of the president; last week, Brennan suggested Justice Department officials should defy the president’s order.
This is why Trump should at the very least place a certain deadline for the inspector general to produce the declassified documents. Michael Horowitz seems to be a stand-up guy, but he is a bureaucrat not an elected leader. Trump is the guardian of the executive branch and Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee the federal agencies it funds with taxpayers money. The American people—and legitimate victims like Page—have waited long enough. This is not time for cold feet. The president should not delay this any longer.
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