By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, in the wake of Paul Manafort’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation, President Trump ordered the release of selective classified documents relating to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. As the criminal probes close in around his inner circle, this act is one of desperation intended to shift the political narrative plaguing his presidency which may in fact constitute an obstruction of justice. Although the President nominally has the power to release such material, doing so under these circumstances may be met with resistance from the targeted agencies and could intensify congressional calls for impeachment against him.
Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed President Donald Trump’s decision Monday to order the release of a slew of sensitive documents related to the Russia investigation.
Schiff’s statement came after the White House announced that Trump had directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (DOJ) “to provide for the immediate declassification” of parts of the FBI’s June 2017 application to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as FBI reports of interviews connected to Page and DOJ official Bruce Ohr.
The president also asked the FBI and the DOJ to release, without redaction, all text messages pertaining to the Russia investigation from former FBI director James Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and Ohr.
“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,” Schiff said in a statement.
“With respect to some of these materials, I have been previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider their release a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods,” Schiff added. “This is evidently of no consequence to a President who cares about nothing about the country and everything about his narrow self-interest.”
The president has declassified minor materials before, but he’s done never done anything as wide-ranging as this. And he’s doing this days after his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, finally agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team.
The goal appears obvious: Trump is searching for something, anything new he can use to try to discredit the investigation. The GOP has been making hay of the texts between Strzok and Page all year, and this is an effort to surface similar material Trump can use to attack Mueller.
But if Trump insists his order be carried out as stated, it will likely be difficult for the Justice Department to stomach, considering how much this would disclose about an extremely sensitive investigation — one that is, again, still ongoing — and how much it would reveal about their sources and methods.
And, again, this is the ongoing investigation into Trump’s own campaign he’s essentially demanding a look at the inner workings of. It’s also an investigation Trump has routinely attacked and undermined. He’s not releasing these for “transparency.” He’s looking for ammunition.