Trey Gowdy promised earlier this week that declassifying evidence related to the start of Operation Crossfire Hurricane would be a “game-changer.” Looks like we’ll shortly find out how accurate Gowdy’s prediction would be. Late this evening, the White House announced that Donald Trump authorized Attorney General William Barr to declassify any documents related to his probes of the FBI counterintelligence operation:
President Donald Trump directed the U.S. intelligence community on Thursday to “quickly and fully cooperate” with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation of the origins of the multi-year probe of whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.
The move marked an escalation in Trump’s efforts to “investigate the investigators,” as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump is delegating to Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the probe, which would ease his efforts to review the sensitive intelligence underpinnings of the investigation.
Escalation? That’s an odd way to characterize declassification. The escalation already took place when Barr appointed Durham to run a separate probe. This is just making it somewhat more transparent — with the “somewhat” part reliant on how much and precisely what gets declassified.
Speaking of which, CNN also notes that this reinforces Barr’s central role in dealing with intelligence operations related to Crossfire Hurricane:
According to a memo released by the White House, the “heads of each department or agency that includes an element of the intelligence community shall promptly provide such assistance and information as the Attorney General may request in connection with that review.”
As CNN has previously reported, Barr is working closely with the heads of the CIA, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to review the origins of the Russia investigation — an effort the President had long demanded.
That central role in assessing and declassifying intel is a little unusual. Normally, one would expect the Director of National Intelligence to take charge of dealing with declassifying intel, even that developed by the FBI in a domestic counter-intel operation. That’s why the ODNI was created, after all — to centralize intelligence collection and analysis and have a direct path to the president. Trump’s executive order in this instance shifts the ODNI to essentially a direct report to the AG for the purposes of this investigation — a move that’s within Trump’s authority, but unusual enough to potentially raise some eyebrows in the intel communities.
At any rate, this answers one nagging question about the gap between the administration’s complaints about Crossfire Hurricane and its actions — or rather inactions. Calls to declassify the Carter Page FISA warrant go back nearly two years from members of Congress, as well as other materials developed in the investigations led by Republicans on Capitol Hill. Trump never made a move to do so, which seemed to undercut claims like that from Gowdy this week that there were bombshells in them that would flip the narrative from Russia-collusion to corrupt politicization of intelligence for partisan purposes. It might have taken a few weeks after Robert Mueller wrapped up his report, but Trump finally pulled the trigger on that move.
Here’s Gowdy again from earlier in the week. Of all the talking heads involved in this debate, Gowdy has the least investment in perpetuating narratives. He’s out of office, out of politics, and looking forward to returning to litigation. We’ll see if his predictions are accurate, or just wishcasting. Soon.