House Republicans ask Trump to declassify Carter Page surveillance docs

House Republicans ask Trump to declassify Carter Page surveillance docs
© Greg Nash

Conservative members of Congress are stepping up calls for the Trump administration to declassify sensitive files related to their scrutiny of the Trump-Russia dossier, the latest move that is likely to ratchet up tensions between House Republicans and the Justice Department.

Reps. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinFuror over Omar puts spotlight on AIPAC Zeldin slams Omar for 'lack of empathy' in her apology The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - All eyes on Trump after lawmakers reach spending deal MORE (R-N.Y.), Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Winners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration MORE (R-N.C.), Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRod Rosenstein’s final insult to Congress: Farewell time for reporters but not testimony House conservatives blast border deal, push Trump to use executive power Cohen to testify before three congressional panels before going to prison MORE (R-Ohio) and nine other Republicans on Thursday issued a direct plea to President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE to declassify and publicly release surveillance renewal applications used to spy on former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

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They also demanded officials declassify a dozen FD-302s — forms used by the FBI to record investigative activities — related to interviews of Justice Department official Bruce Ohr about his contacts with Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who compiled the controversial dossier for research firm Fusion GPS.

“The continued attempts to hide from the public the full account of these abuses is intolerable,” Zeldin said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. He also accused the Justice Department of improperly keeping the documents under wraps. 

The files are central to Republican inquiries into what they allege was bias at the Justice Department and FBI during the 2016 election.

Critics, meanwhile, view the scrutiny of the dossier as part of a broader effort by Trump's Republican allies to discredit special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Republicans say that the documents will prove their claims that the FBI misled the court when applying for a warrant to spy on Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“We are confident that the FISA applications will prove that the highest levels of the DOJ and FBI failed to provide the FISA court with critically important information when they requested a warrant to spy on Carter Page and others,” Zeldin said Thursday. 

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee charged that the dossier, which was funded in part by Democrats and which contains salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Moscow, was improperly used to justify a warrant to spy on Page. Committee Republicans also accused the FBI of abusing its surveillance authority. 

A Republican-authored memo released by the committee — with the approval of Trump earlier this year — charged that the FBI did not sufficiently disclose the role of the Democratic National Committee or Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders expected to announce exploratory committee next week Bernie Sanders records announcement video ahead of possible 2020 bid Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants MORE's presidential campaign in the dossier when applying for the warrant to spy on Page through FISA. 

In response to Republican demands, the Justice Department released a set of top-secret documents related to the surveillance of Page in July, though the documents were substantially redacted. They showed that the FBI believed Page to be “the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government.” The documents also referenced claims originating from the dossier, in addition to information unrelated to the dossier. 

Democrats charged that the documents proved Republicans had misrepresented them in their criticism of the FBI and that the bureau did nothing improper.

Republicans, meanwhile, seized on the files as proof of their claims, and some, like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears ‘Fox & Friends’ host asks if McCabe opening FBI probe into Trump was attempt to ‘overthrow government’ Nunes says GOP lawmakers looking through Russia transcripts, will make DOJ referrals MORE (R-Calif.), have pushed for the documents to be released without redactions.

The Republican lawmakers on Thursday asked Trump to move to fully declassify the documents, with the exception of redactions necessary to protect sensitive sources and methods. Lawmakers are particularly interested in 20 pages of the law renewal application — pages 10–12 and 17–34 of the last renewal application — which were used to spy on Page.

GOP lawmakers are also appealing to Trump to declassify the files related to Ohr and documents provided to the “Gang of Eight” in Congress that they allege contain “critically important information” which was withheld from the FISA court.

The Justice Department declined to comment Thursday.

Ohr, in particular, has drawn Republican scrutiny, including from Trump, because of his contact with Steele. Steele was once a source for the FBI. Ohr worked in the deputy attorney general’s office, but was demoted late last year after the department learned of his contacts with Steele.

Republicans have also seized on the fact that Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS during the 2016 election. 

Last week, Ohr was grilled behind closed doors by lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform and the Judiciary committees. On Friday, The Associated Press reported that Ohr recounted to lawmakers an instance two years ago in which Steele told him Russian intelligence believed it had Trump “over a barrel.” 

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

Meadows would not go into detail Thursday about his discussions with the president on the matter but said he had “not gotten any indication as a pushback.” 

Trump himself seized on the release of the Page documents in July, tweeting that they “are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!”