Just what do the still-classified transcripts from the FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane reveal? Only a few people know for sure, and former Rep. Trey Gowdy is one of them. He told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that the transcript of George Papadopoulos’ interview would be a “gamechanger” in how the public views the Russia-collusion investigation, and it’s not the only such transcript that could leave the impression that the FBI targeted Donald Trump’s campaign rather than the Russians (via Conservative Treehouse):
Gowdy, who has declined to provide specifics about the contents of the classified FBI document, neither confirmed nor denied that the transcript involved Papadopoulos and Halper, but strongly hinted that Bartiromo was correct.
Gowdy told Bartiromo that this transcript “certainly has the potential to be” a game changer and said that he was “lost” and “clueless” as to why it hadn’t been made public yet, stating that he didn’t think it contained any information that would have an impact on relationships with our allies.
Gowdy further said that the transcripts would show “what questions [the FBI] coached the informants or the cooperating witnesses to ask of the Trump campaign officials” and implied that the questions would show that the FBI had been targeting the Trump campaign rather than simply attempting to combat Russian election interference.
Gowdy claimed that if the transcripts showed that the FBI was “veering over into the campaign or your [the FBI’s] questions are not solely about Russia, then you [the FBI] have been misleading us for two years.”
“The good thing about transcripts they don’t have to remember,” Gowdy said. “All you got to do is read them. They don’t have bad memories. Just release the transcripts and we can tell for ourselves when it began and what it was about.”
Why haven’t the transcripts been released? Trump himself could order them declassified, which would allow for their publication at some point. It’s possible that they do contain significant information about intelligence sources and methods, although those could also be redacted in that case. Even while complaining that the investigation was a “witch hunt” that was politically aimed at his campaign, Trump has been slow to use his declassification authority.
That reluctance made sense when Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigation was still active. As the Mueller report showed, investigators were highly sensitive to potential obstructive actions, and selectively declassifying material to undermine the investigation’s credibility might have been added to their Volume II catalog of (near-)obstructive acts. But Mueller’s done now — packed up and gone home, with the exception of a single day that Jerrold Nadler would likely want to take back if he could. Why not declassify all of this now?
The short answer is that the investigation of the investigation is still ongoing. Inspector General Michael Horowitz will shortly conclude his probe into the beginnings of Operation Crossfire Hurricane, which might rely heavily on those still-classified transcripts. Declassifying them prematurely might have complicated Horowitz’ ability to depose others involved in the investigation. Horowitz’ report will be out soon enough at this point that declassifying these transcripts isn’t urgent as much as it may be necessary at some point.
The longer answer may be that Horowitz’ investigation might not be the last word. Horowitz could refer the matter to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution, depending on what evidence he uncovers in his probe. The odds that William Barr would proceed with a prosecution are small, thanks to the highly politicized environment surrounding Operation Crossfire Hurricane now, but they’re not zero either. Keeping key evidence out of public view allows for the selection of a relatively unbiased jury if the need arises. And since the person who would enjoy such a trial most is also the man who would have to order the declassification of the materials — Trump, of course — he’s probably not keen on closing out the possibility of prosecution through premature declassification and release.
Let’s not forget, too, that Gowdy’s word won’t be the last one about the transcripts. Gowdy’s been a highly reliable voice on such matters and he’s hardly a Trump apologist, but he may not have the full scope on what those transcripts mean. Horowitz will, and that’s why Horowitz’ voice will be the authoritative one on these matters. Still, Gowdy thinks he’s seen more than smoke in those transcripts, and it’s a safe bet that Horowitz’ probe is making a lot of people very nervous.