Is this a bluff, a threat — or an incentive? Almost two years ago, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release transcripts from 53 interviews in their Russia-collusion probe as soon as intelligence agencies reviewed and redacted them. Since that time, Adam Schiff has taken over the HIC and no one has seen those transcripts. Republicans have accused Schiff of sitting on them for his own political purposes, but the issue has flown under the radar for months.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has now upped the ante. All 53 transcripts are ready for release, and most have been for almost a year. If Schiff doesn’t release them, Byron York reports, Grenell is threatening to publish them himself under the authority of the previous unanimous HIC vote:
In a rare moment of comity, Democrats agreed, and on September 26, 2018, the committee voted unanimously to release the transcripts. But there was a catch: The documents would have to first be checked for classified information by the Intelligence Community. So off they went to the IC — never to be seen again.
Now, in May 2020, they’re still secret. Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal editorial board reported that the IC had finished its review of 43 of the transcripts, but Schiff was refusing to release them. The paper said Schiff was also preventing declassification of the remaining ten transcripts.
In the letter, Grenell revealed that the 43 transcripts have been finished since June 2019. Schiff has been sitting on them all that time. Grenell said the final ten have just been finished as well. “I urge you to honor your previous public statements, and your committee’s unanimous vote on this matter, to release all 53 cleared transcripts to Members of Congress and the American public as soon as possible,” Grenell said. Just in case Schiff is still not interested, Grenell added, “I am also willing to release the transcripts directly from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as to ensure we comply with the unanimous and bipartisan vote to release the transcripts.”
That’s a tantalizing statement. Schiff has been sitting on these for some reason, and it’s safe to say that it’s not because they vindicate Schiff or indict Donald Trump. Grenell’s letter suggests that he might find publication of these transcripts useful — but why? York also reports that Grenell has not shared the transcripts with the White House, per Schiff’s requirements, a demand that also should raise some eyebrows.
Can Grenell do that, though? The transcripts are the product of the HIC, not the intelligence communities that he oversees. Most if not all of the interview subjects don’t and didn’t work for the intelligence agencies, either. Their transcripts were reviewed by ODNI only for the purpose of ensuring that classified information didn’t break out into the open. Furthermore, ODNI is an executive-branch function, from which the legislature is separate and co-equal. Any attempt to release these transcripts without authorization would immediately end up in federal court. Although Grenell will argue that the committee has already authorized their release, a federal judge could see it as Schiff’s call to make as to timing of the release.
Grenell probably wants to raise public pressure on Schiff to authorize release of the transcripts, whether they make him look bad or not. However, it also increases the incentives on Senate Democrats. Grenell only has this authority as ODNI until a formal replacement gets confirmed — and guess what the Senate’s doing this week? The confirmation hearing for John Ratcliffe got off to a bit of a rocky start, but this might give some balky Senate Democrats some impetus to accelerate Grenell’s departure. Ratcliffe probably would threaten a release too, but it might take months for him to get around to it, and a change at ODNI might buy enough time to get past the election.
That still leaves the question as to what exactly is in those transcripts … and why Schiff won’t let anyone see them. Republicans have a pretty good idea, though:
The chairman has shown no hesitation to keep secrets even when they involve non-classified information of great national interest. For example, Schiff is still concealing the committee’s impeachment inquiry interview with Michael Atkinson, at the time the Intelligence Community Inspector General, in the Ukraine matter. As for the Trump-Russia interviews, Republicans remember when Schiff claimed he had “direct evidence” of collusion — a charge special counsel Robert Mueller was never able to establish. Some GOP lawmakers believe the transcripts will help show that Schiff was making it up all along. It’s time for the public to learn that, too.
Indeed. Schiff had spewed every sort of conspiracy-theory nonsense, only to get publicly debunked by Mueller’s final findings. It’s long past time to find out exactly what Schiff knew and when he knew it in his McCarthyite campaign.