Today, President Trump announced that he was ordering the Directorate of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice to declassify a whole series of documents related to the Russia investigation. A statement issued by the White House says these documents are to include portions of the Carter Page FISA warrant application and FBI reports connected to the application, FBI reports on interviews with Bruce Ohr, and text messages of “James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.” Here’s the statement:
BREAKING: President Trump directs DOJ to publicly release "all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr," as well as declassify other material related to the Russian investigation. pic.twitter.com/nOvLC5EgNw
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 17, 2018
So what is this going to accomplish? Well, a group of Republicans in Congress asked Trump to declassify these materials about 10 days ago. They argued that some of the materials would prove that the FBI had additional information which would have undercut the surveillance application filed with the FISA court. From the Washington Post:
The FBI’s application to surveil Page that is in question was filed in October 2016, and then periodically renewed. Members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees interviewed Ohr behind closed doors last month.
The members believe that once declassified, the combined documents will show that the FBI knew, but failed to tell the court, things about the dossier that would have undermined the merits of the application — including that Steele was against Trump’s campaign to be president.
“Powers were abused, the FISA court was misled, and we have zero tolerance for any of it,” Zeldin said. “The government has a responsibility not only to provide its best evidence in support of its application but also the best evidence it has against its case. In this case, the DOJ failed to do so.”
If you’ve been paying attention to this story, this argument about FISA abuse at the FBI has been going on for months. Back in February, Rep. Nunes released a memo arguing that the FBI left out information about the source of the dossier when it applied for the surveillance warrant.
Rep. Adam Schiff responded with his own memo which claimed information on the political nature of the dossier was contained in a footnote of the application. He also claimed the ultimate source funding the dossier (Hillary Clinton) couldn’t be named because that would have unmasked her identity. But National Review’s Andrew McCarthy pointed out at the time there were much simpler ways to say who was behind the dossier:
Note that Simpson is referred to as “an identified U.S. person”; Perkins-Coie is referred to as “a U.S.-based law firm.” The dispute here is not about the failure to use the words “Hillary Clinton.” They could have referred to “Candidate #2.”To state that “Candidate #2” had commissioned Steele’s research would have been just as easy and every bit as appropriate as the DOJ’s reference to a “Candidate #1,” who might have “ties to Russia.”
The information on Bruce Ohr could also be interesting because Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was working for Fusion GPS at the time Steele was writing the dossier. Nellie Ohr is expected to testify at a closed-door congressional interview later this week.
Finally, we’ve all seen some fairly partisan texts from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, some of which even caught the attention of the Inspector General. The release of messages from James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Bruch Ohr could help provide a greater sense of what the leadership at the bureau was thinking at about the Russia investigation over time. Earlier today, President Trump tweeted about a story by Fox News’ Catherine Herridge about some Page-Strzok texts:
“Lisa Page Testimony- NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION BEFORE MUELLER APPOINTMENT.” @FoxNews by Catherine Herridge. Therefore, the case should never have been allowed to be brought. It is a totally illegal Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2018
Immediately after Comey’s firing Peter Strzok texted to his lover, Lisa Page “We need to Open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy (McCabe, also fired) is acting. Page answered, “We need to lock in (redacted). In a formal chargeable way. Soon.” Wow, a conspiracy caught?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2018
Trump has been banging this drum for months. Perhaps the release of these documents will help resolve the outstanding questions about the FBI’s approach to this case, but I sort of doubt it. Despite the clear partisanship of Strzok, Page, Comey, McCabe, and Ohr, Democrats are not about to admit they were up to something dubious after having spent months on television saying the opposite. There won’t be a dramatic Perry Mason moment here but maybe it will be enough to convince a few observers that the whole thing stinks.
Update: Rep. Steve Scalise tweeted his support for the move:
— Rep. Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) September 17, 2018
But Politico reports the DOJ is uncertain how this is going to work:
Neither DOJ nor the FBI has any idea how the redaction process for this announcement is being handled, and they think it’s possible that the White House is just doing it on its own and could release this material as early as Monday night, according to a source familiar with the process.
Will we see these docs tonight? If so I’ll try to add a link.