Is there an FBI surveillance transcript that would change hardened views on the Russia-collusion investigation? “I would love for your viewers to see it,” former House Oversight chair Trey Gowdy told Maria Bartiromo yesterday on Fox News. Gowdy concedes that views on Donald Trump and the 2016 election have become so polarized and embedded that not much can change them. One transcript involving former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos has that potential, Gowdy tells Bartiromo, but thus far it hasn’t been released:
Republican lawmakers who have seen the relevant documents believe exculpatory evidence related to Papadopoulos was not included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications targeting former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
“If the bureau is going to send an informant in it’s going to be wired and if the bureau is monitoring telephone calls there’s a transcript of that,” Gowdy said. “And some of us have been fortunate enough to know whether or not those transcripts exist. But they haven’t been made public.”
Gowdy said one still-secret transcript could be a bombshell. “I think one in particular is going, it has the potential to actually persuade people. Very little on this Russia probe, I’m afraid, is going to persuade people who hate Trump or love Trump. But there is some information in these transcripts that I think has the potential to be a game changer, if it’s ever made public,” he said.
Gowdy agreed with Bartiromo’s suggestion that the FBI had concealed relevant details about Papadopoulos from the FISA court, echoing the concerns that Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, has been expressing for months. “Yeah, John Ratcliffe is rightfully exercised over the obligations the government has to tell the whole truth to a court when you are speaking permission to spy or do surveillance on an American,” Gowdy said. “And part of that includes the responsibility of providing exculpatory information or information that tends to show the person did not do something wrong.”
“If you have exculpatory information and you don’t share it with the court, that ain’t good.” Gowdy added. “I’ve seen it, Johnny has seen it, I’d love for your viewers to see it.”
We may not be able to see it, but Inspector General Michael Horowitz can, and presumably so can recently appointed investigator John Durham. Both men will look closely at the FISA warrant application to see whether the Department of Justice followed the rules in seeking a counterespionage warrant on Carter Page. If that warrant application relied on their interactions with Papadopoulos and the FBI withheld truly exculpatory evidence, then that would create a technical violation that could put a lot of people in trouble.
It’s tough to see how that alone would change hardened views on Russiagate, though. The transcript would have to not just contain technically exculpatory information, but information that would undermine or completely contradict the entire Russia-collusion theory. It’s tough to imagine that anything of that scope would have remained under wraps for this long after multiple congressional investigations and the Robert Mueller special-counsel probe. Mueller didn’t completely debunk the Russia-collusion theory; his report concluded that there was no evidence to support it, which is not quite the same thing. To argue that the transcript was a game-changer in the manner Gowdy’s arguing, it would have to show that the Russia-collusion theory was a dead end from the beginning.
The Washington Examiner’s Jerry Dunleavy reminds readers of what Ratcliffe said about this transcript last October, albeit cryptically. Ratcliffe wanted the president to declassify the information to get it out in public at that point, and declared that declassification would corroborate all of this:
“The underlying pretext to the entire Trump-Russia investigation, is this idea that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign associate, had a conversation with an Australian diplomat about getting Hillary Clinton’s e-mails from the Russians,” Ratcliffe continued. “Hypothetically, if the Department of Justice and the FBI has another piece of evidence that directly refutes, that directly contradicts that, what you would expect is for the Department of Justice to present both sides of the coin to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to evaluate the weight and sufficiency of that evidence.”
But that’s not what happened, Raticliffe said. “Instead, what happened here was, Department of Justice and FBI officials in the Obama administration in October of 2016 only presented to the court the evidence that made the government’s case to get a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate.”
If that’s the case, though, why hasn’t Donald Trump declassified and released all this material? At that time, Ratcliffe insisted that the material had no real nat-sec implications and could be declassified. Trump may not have wanted to do that while Mueller’s investigation remained open and risk an obstruction charge, but Mueller’s been finished for two months and the report is now a month old. It’s now entirely Trump’s call, but the full predicate for the FISA warrant and this transcript has still not been declassified and released. Why? And why didn’t Mueller include whatever Gowdy and Ratcliffe saw in this transcript into his report and address the issue of the Christopher Steele dossier?
Maybe Gowdy’s correct in stating that this transcript would provide a lot of answers and change minds. The fact that we still haven’t seen it raises some significant questions, however, about whether the White House sees this in the same way Gowdy and Ratcliffe do.