Trump Orders Declassification of Some FBI Russia Probe Reports
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump ordered the declassification of parts of a previously secret warrant application to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to his presidential campaign who was flagged by intelligence agencies as a target of Russian interest.
The president also directed the release of other materials from the continuing investigation of Russian election interference in which he’s a central figure. Trump and some Republican lawmakers say the material will prove that anti-Trump bias fatally tainted the early stages of the Russia probe that’s now being run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In addition to the search warrant on Page, Trump ordered declassification of FBI reports on interviews concerning Page as well as reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr on his role in the Russia inquiry, according to a statement Monday from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Trump also directed public release of all text messages concerning the Russia probe by Ohr and several former officials, including two who were fired -- former FBI Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe.
The president has referred to the surveillance of Page as "Spy-Gate” and has called the broader inquiry a “witch hunt” that’s rigged against him. Democrats have said such allegations are an attempt to district from Mueller’s inquiry into whether anyone around Trump colluded in the Russian meddling and whether the president sought to obstruct justice.
“President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. He said the releases may compromise sensitive “sources and methods.”
The president took the rare step of issuing his directives after a group of conservative House Republicans asked him to do so. But release of the material held by agencies including the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence won’t be immediate, according to an official who asked not to be identified. The agencies, which already have been in the process of reviewing the material, now are under a formal directive from the president to release it.
“When the president issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests,” a Justice Department spokesman said in a statement. “The Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the president’s order.”
Trump and his supporters have repeatedly attacked the FBI and Justice Department for relying partly on a dossier on Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele in order to get the warrant on Page. They contend that Justice and FBI officials didn’t fully disclose that Steele was paid in part by Trump’s rival in the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton.
“President Trump is absolutely right to declassify these documents,” Republican Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a statement Monday. “As Congress has investigated, we’ve continued to see more and more troubling evidence suggesting multiple senior-level FBI and DOJ officials acted in a deeply unethical fashion during the 2016 campaign and throughout the early stages of the Trump administration.”
Democrats have said information other than the Steele dossier was used to obtain the warrant on Page.
The initial warrant request called Page “an agent of a foreign power” and said “the FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government,” according to the document.
A heavily redacted version of the application to conduct surveillance on Page was released in July in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The application was made in October 2016 to the court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was renewed three additional times, including in 2017, after Trump took office.
Referring to Trump as “Candidate #1,” the application said “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s campaign.”
The application included a footnote more than a page in length saying the person who approached Steele never advised him “as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia."
“The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign,” according to the application.
Page left the Trump campaign in September 2016, a month before the surveillance warrant was sought. He hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing and has said that while he had conversations with Russian officials, he wasn’t an agent of the Russian government.
Republicans said in September that they also wanted to see all of Justice Department official Ohr’s FD-302s -- forms used to summarize FBI interviews. They suspect that the Ohr documents will elaborate on the FBI’s relationship with Steele.
Ohr, a former associate deputy attorney general who still works at the Justice Department, has drawn increasing scrutiny from Trump after he learned that Ohr’s wife once worked for Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele. On Aug. 20, the president wrote on Twitter, “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions “Justice” Department? A total joke!”
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