On Monday, Donald Trump ordered the FBI to immediately declassify a number of documents related to procurement of the FISA warrant against Trump adviser Carter Page. Trump has also ordered the release of transcripts from FBI interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. And Trump has ordered the FBI to publically produce all text messages related to the Russia investigation from Ohr, FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, special agent Peter Szrok, FBI attorney Lisa Page. This is being done for the express purpose of undermining the Russia investigation.
We have been here before. This effort is the direct follow-on of the Republican Congressman Devin Nunes’ “release the memo” memo, and of earlier documents which Trump declassified in July. Those earlier releases were done over the objection of both the FBI and DOJ who warned that in releasing the information, Trump was threatening both sources and methods of the agencies and damaging an ongoing investigation. With this order, Trump has made it blindingly clear that the intent of his actions is just that: Damage the FBI, demean the DOJ, out sources, reveal methods, and attempt to cripple the Russia investigation … and, of course, any other investigation that gets in the way.
At each step, Trump and Nunes have thundered that the documents would prove that the investigation into Carter Page was based entirely on the memos from former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, thereby invalidating the entire Trump–Russia investigation. However, both previous attempts to undermine the investigation have only reminded people of three things: The investigation was already underway when the FBI made its application for what was only the last in a series of FISA warrants against Carter Page, Steele’s information made up only a small part of a warrant application that was approved by a Republican-appointed judge, and Steele’s memos themselves are sporting a pretty good record when it comes to accuracy over the long term.
Trump’s last ah-ha presentation of documents fizzles so badly that even the Republican leadership brought in to view the information, left without making a statement. That’s why this time Trump isn’t trusting them. He and Nunes are turning to their true allies—the alt-Reich media and the on-line communities that have given them the ludicrous Pizzagate and its bastard offspring QAnon. Trump and Nunes are timing the release of this information so that their fans get a drop of thousands of texts and hundreds of documents just days before the midterm election. That’s not coincidental at all.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff: President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative.
NPR reports that Trump’s order has kicked off “a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel.” However, in both previous cases the FBI and DOJ objected to the information Trump was attempting to release. It seems certain they’ll do the same here, and that Trump will simply overrule any and all objections. At this moment, the FBI and DOJ are logging documents whose release would be damaging to not just the Russia investigation, but the ability of the FBI and DOJ to conduct any future investigation. Trump will ignore that work and throw everything against the wall in the hopes of finally finding something that can stick to the FBI, the DOJ, and special counsel Robert Mueller.
The sheer hypocrisy of Trump’s actions shouldn’t be surprising, but it is massive. Throughout the Russia investigation, Trump has applied an unprecedented, and indefensible, use of “privilege.” Trump’s privilege has extended to conversations in which he wasn’t personally involved, to events that took place before he took office, and even to episodes that occurred before the election. They’ve extended not just to documents and conversations over which participants claim that Trump has already exerted some notion of privilege, but even to other conversations brought up in congressional testimony that weren’t previously mentioned. It’s been applied as a universal blanket over any conversation between Trump and anyone. Even second hand. Even as a candidate. For any purpose.
But Trump wants to be just as universal in opening the emails and texts of Comey, Ohr, McCabe, and others. He wants everything they said thrown out in public view so that it can be turned into the stuff of Breitbart and InfoWars bad dreams. All right, Trumpists are going crazy over texts between Strzok and Page concerning a leak. While the texts clearly reflect Strzok’s frustration in attempting to track down a leak, Republicans have attempted to paint the exchange as an attempt to use leaks to plant information in the media about Trump. It’s a previous of a thousand noxious weeds sure to spring up once Trump hands the QAnon crowd enough raw material.
But Trump isn’t asking for everything to be declassified. As Business Insider reports, Trump’s requests on the Page documents were carefully tailored.
Trump did not ask the DOJ and FBI to declassify subsequent portions of the document that detail Page's activities and Russian efforts to recruit him as an agent before he joined the campaign.
Those sections would, of course, constitute the bulk of the application, and the reason that Page had already been subject to a string of earlier FISA warrants, all of which were approved. In pulling out just those Trump and Steele related sections, Trump is trying to reinforce the idea that Page’s application was all about him, and nothing else.
And behind all of this is one simple fact: With the conviction and plea deal from Manafort, the cooperation of Michael Cohen, and deals with both Rick Gates and Michael Flynn, Trump can see that the Russia investigation is gnawing its way relentlessly to his gold-plated doors. Throwing out the FBI information to generate a cloud of fresh conspiracy theories, is just another effort to so weaken the institutions involved and generate confusion that Trump can claim justification in ending the investigation before he goes down.