But why did President Trump cancel his declassification order?
President Trump told a Friday evening rally that there’s a “lingering stench” in the FBI and vowed to get rid of it.
Trump was right: there is a lingering stench of political bias in the FBI and Justice Department, and both need to be cleaned out of the people who have destroyed the public’s trust in them by substituting political judgments for legal ones.
But there’s also a lingering sense of indecision and weakness in the president.
What began as a good week for President Trump stalled and finally ended badly. On Monday, he ordered the Justice Department to declassify and provide to congressional investigators a pile of documents, many of which the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) subpoenaed more than a year ago.
From Tuesday until Friday morning, we waited in vain for any evidence that the president’s order had been complied with by the FBI and DoJ.
On Friday morning, HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) told a Fox News interviewer that his committee hadn’t seen any of the documents that the president’s Monday order had declassified. Obviously, the FBI and DoJ weren’t complying with the president’s order.
Then came Trump’s Friday announcement that he’d canceled the declassification order after being persuaded to do so by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and “key allies” — Britain? Australia? Russia? Mexico? — who’d called to urge him not to declassify the documents in question.
On the same morning the New York Times dropped its daisy-cutter, reporting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had — in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey — proposed recording Rosenstein’s conversations with Trump intending that the recordings be used to persuade the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office.
The article also mentioned that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe had written contemporaneous memos reflecting Rosenstein’s suggestion that Trump be recorded without the president’s knowledge.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — the HPSCI — under chairman Nunes has been trying to find out what the FBI and the Justice Department did in their 2016-2017 counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.
The HPSCI has been asking for a long list of documents from both DoJ and the FBI. Many have been produced but production of most of the key documents have either been refused entirely or the documents have been produced to HPSCI in severely redacted form.
In short, both the FBI and DoJ have stonewalled Congress. They are conducting a massive coverup that has, so far, been successful.
In August 2017 — you read that right, last year not this year — Nunes subpoenaed the documents that the FBI and DoJ refused to produce. That set off a war of words and threats going both ways that has gone on ever since. HPSCI was given some documents including parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act search warrant applications with respect to one of Trump’s minor campaign advisors, Carter Page.
By January 18, 2018 Nunes and his staff had written a long memo based on the documents the committee had received from the FBI and DoJ. The memo demonstrated, for the first time, that the FISA warrant applications authored by the FBI in pursuit of search warrants against former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page were based only on information taken from the so-called “Steele dossier.” That dossier is a series of memos written by former British spy Christopher Steele and bought and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign through the Perkins, Coie law firm. Perkins, Coie hired the Fusion GPS firm to write the opposition piece on Trump, and Fusion GPS hired Steele to do the work.
The Nunes memo also showed that the FISA court — the special court that operates in secret to provide search warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — wasn’t told that the Steele dossier was a Clinton-funded project or that Steele had been fired by the FBI as an informant because he was leaking information to the media.
Most importantly the Nunes memo showed that the Steele dossier materials hadn’t been independently verified before the FBI provided some of the information it held — in the form of sworn affidavits — to the FISA court.
The HPSCI Democrats — especially Adam Schiff (D-CA) — went wild. Their media campaign against disclosure of the Nunes memo went on until February 2, when Trump ordered that it be declassified and published.
Beginning on April 4, 2018, and since, Nunes has been threatening to enforce the 2017 subpoenas to get the key documents, including the so-called “electronic communication” by which the whole investigation of the Trump campaign was based.
Through this year, other information has been uncovered or created and is known to exist. Among those documents are the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page anti-Trump emails, and the FBI memos (“302s”) of interviews of former Assistant Attorney General Bruce Ohr.
Last Monday, President Trump ordered that most of the documents sought by HPSCI would be declassified so that Congress could get them. Among the documents covered by Trump’s order are a 21-page section of the first FISA warrant against Carter Page (there were three renewals with separate applications), copies of the Strzok-Page emails (in unredacted form), and the FBI’s “302s” — raw reports of interviews — of former Assistant Attorney General Bruce Ohr who, even after Steele was fired by the FBI, served as a channel of communication from Steele to the FBI. (Ohr’s wife Nellie was an employee of Fusion GPS. Her employment with Fusion GPS was not reported by Ohr as a financial interest in that company, as he was required to do.)
When Trump canceled his declassification order, his Tweeted explanation was that he’d met with DoJ and that they’d agreed to follow his order but the release of the documents would have a “perceived negative impact” on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He added that key allies — note the plural — had called asking him not to declassify the documents.
Stop right there. Rosenstein — who appointed Mueller to be special counsel — is supposedly the DoJ official supervising the Mueller investigation. Why — when the president is convinced that the Muller investigation is a witch hunt — would he be concerned about a negative perception on the documents’ declassification? Why would he trust Rosenstein’s advice, especially after the NYT report?
Many of us have been, for almost a year, saying that the president should order all of these documents — and all the rest that Nunes and HPSCI have asked for — to be declassified. Unless the president is terrified of what the Democrats would say about the declassification, there’s no logical reason for him to cancel his order.
Stop again. Between Monday’s order and Friday’s cancellation of the declassification order, Rosenstein — or others whose wrongful actions would be exposed — had plenty of time to talk to “key allies” to get them to call Trump to ask him to not declassify the documents. You can bet the farm that the calls from “key allies” — probably Britain and Australia — told Trump that they’d be less willing to share intelligence with us if their involvement in the Steele dossier mess were exposed.
The “less willing to share intelligence” argument is boilerplate in the intelligence community. It’s the first argument against any disclosure, and it’s usually, not always, false. The intelligence sharing with our allies is never automatic or complete. That’s why we have the “NOFORN” — i.e., no dissemination to foreign governments — designation on a great deal of our intelligence and intelligence analysis. They have similar limitations on what they tell us.
Moreover, political damage from public disclosures pass quickly. Our allies, fragile as their own politics may be, recover quickly from disclosures such as those that would have resulted from Trump’s Monday order. Again, why is Trump so malleable?
In the midst of this, the New York Times published its report that Deputy AG Rosenstein had wanted to record his conversations with Trump, presumably about the firing of Comey, in order to convince Vice President Pence and the cabinet that Trump should be removed from office.
Rosenstein quickly denied the report and his defenders said he’d made the suggestion jokingly. The NYT reporter who’d written the story insisted that Rosenstein’s suggestion was entirely serious.
On Friday evening, addressing a rally in Springfield, Missouri, Trump — without mentioning the Rosenstein report of Friday — said that he wanted to get rid of the “lingering stench” in the Justice Department and the FBI. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) responded quickly that Trump can’t attack the Mueller investigation by firing Rosenstein.
So where are we?
In short, the FBI and DoJ are still succeeding in covering up their mutual malfeasance during the 2016 election and through the Trump transition. Unless the president reverses himself again and re-orders declassification and full disclosure of these documents to HPSCI, that coverup will continue to succeed and may easily outlast Trump. Which is precisely what they’re trying to do.
They may not even have to outlast Trump. If the Republicans lose the House in November the HPSCI investigation of the FBI and DoJ will be reversed. The Democrats will turn that investigation into an Inquisition against Trump in the hopes of both impeaching him and feeding the Mueller investigation.
According to news reports, whatever memos Andrew McCabe wrote are already in Mueller’s hands. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is preparing subpoenas to DoJ for the McCabe memos that purportedly show Rosenstein’s comments about recording Trump. He — and Nunes — should be given those memos forthwith.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any part of the Russia investigation. That doesn’t cover the allegation that Rosenstein suggested recording Trump in the aftermath of Trump’s firing of James Comey from his position as FBI director.
It’s time for Sessions to get off the bench and take charge. He should demand immediately that he be given any McCabe memos having to do with the allegation that Rosenstein wanted to record Trump. If they show the allegation to be true, Rosenstein should be fired forthwith.
The lingering stench of political bias in the FBI and DoJ is the stench of political corruption. It’s as bad — or worse — than if the Clinton campaign had paid bribes to avoid Hillary’s obvious crimes and to get our primary federal law enforcers to pursue ephemeral crimes of Trump and his campaign.
There’s no solution except to investigate those whose bias affected those actions and fire all of them. Get on with it, Mr. President. Declassify the documents that HPSCI has demanded and fire the people who should be fired, whatever their rank or position.
Trump may be planning to fire Sessions and Rosenstein after the November election. He can’t afford to wait that long.