This might be the one key act that could deconstruct a number of non-COVID-19 crises, from a DC Circuit fight to impeachment and the upcoming election. We can thank outgoing acting DNI Richard Grenell for creating the possibility, although many Democrats on Capitol Hill won’t be grateful for it at all. In his final hours in charge of the nation’s intelligence communities, Grenell declassified the transcripts of calls between Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — calls which formed the heart of a special-counsel prosecution effort that has derailed in court.
Just what will these transcripts tell us? And more importantly — will newly installed DNI John Ratcliffe release them?
Richard Grenell has declassified a new batch of Russia probe documents on his way out as acting director of national intelligence, leaving the decision on whether to make those files public up to newly sworn-in Director John Ratcliffe.
The documents include transcripts of phone calls that then-incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had in December 2016, during the presidential transition period. Grenell said publicly last week that he was in the process of declassifying those files, after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked that he do so.
Fox News has learned that the declassification review of those transcripts is now complete, and it will be left up to Ratcliffe on whether to release them publicly.
By the way, that’s not all Grenell declassified on his final day. Ratcliffe has a few other tough choices to make:
Fox News has learned that Grenell also completed the declassification review of other documents related to the origins of the Russia probe — including one that a senior intelligence official told Fox News was “very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support launching the Russia investigation.”
The real question isn’t will but when. Now that Grenell has declassified the documents, it won’t be long before House and Senate Republicans will want to see them, and that means they will leak quickly. They also might be subject to FOIA demands from outfits like Judicial Watch and others, as well as media outlets with some interest in exploring the ways power might have been abused in Russiagate. That might leave out the major media outlets, admittedly, but they have a significant number of competitors who will tread that path whether mainstream outlets do or don’t.
One party to the call has a particular interest in those transcripts. Flynn attorney Sidney Powell openly complained last week that the defense had never been provided the calls or the transcripts. She bet that the word “sanctions” never appeared in any of them even though that was the issue on which the FBI and DoJ later claimed Flynn lied, leading to his prosecution. Even if Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak, though, it would have been legal for him to do so as part of the incoming presidential transition team. The full set of transcripts could answer definitively whether the FBI and DoJ ever had a legit case against Flynn for obstruction — and that might embarrass one judge in particular, who refuses to sign off on the DoJ’s dismissal motion.
Now that the transcripts, at least, have been declassified, expect Powell to demand access to them. That might accelerate their general publication as well, since they would undoubtedly enter the public record through court filings. Ratcliffe might not have much choice at all in this case; Grenell may have made all of those choices inevitable with his final declassification decision.
Not that Ratcliffe likely needs much prompting. His passionate defense of Donald Trump in House Intelligence Committee hearings derailed the first attempt to nominate him for the DNI position. Senate Democrats acquiesced to a vote on Ratcliffe only when it became clear that Grenell would impose a policy of radical transparency on US intelligence, especially on its work related to the entire debunked Russia-collusion hysteria. Ratcliffe has to live with the intel community for a while longer than Grenell — just how much longer depends on the election — and so he might be inclined to slow things down a bit. Grenell made that easy for him, too, preparing the ground so that Ratcliffe doesn’t have to take many more unpopular moves.
On Wednesday, Fox News and the New York Post cited sources claiming Grenell declassified these Flynn-Kislyak transcripts and that it was now up to Ratcliffe as the new head of ODNI to decide whether to release the documents publicly. Fox News also cited a senior intelligence official who said that Grenell had also finished the declassification process for other Russia investigation documents, including one that was “very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support launching the Russia investigation.”
When the Washington Examiner’s Rob Crilly asked Trump if he would be willing to release the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts on Wednesday, the president said, “I would like to hear that conversation, yeah, I would like to hear it personally, so whatever they would like me to do, I’ll do.”
Trump won’t have to do much now except refrain from reclassifying the information. The only way he’d do that is if it made him look bad, and so far Trump doesn’t seem worried about that at all. That should make a number of other people very worried.