Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community

Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE’s decision to publicly release classified documents related to the Trump-Russia dossier could further inflame his administration’s already tense relationship with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the intelligence community.

The president sparked a political firestorm after he bulldozed past reviews of his own federal agencies regarding the redactions of sensitive documents. Instead, Trump chose to declassify documents tied to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia investigation.

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Under Trump’s order on Monday, a series of documents will become public, including classified parts of a surveillance application that allowed the FBI to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and "all text messages relating to the Russia investigation" from former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump: Comey saying Dems 'have to win' in 2020 'exposed his partisan stance' Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — NRCC exposes security flaws 2 years after Russia hacks | Google Plus to shut down early | Scathing House report scolds Equifax for breach | McCarthy knocks Google ahead of CEO's hearing Fox News host: Comey claiming memory lapses ‘not fair’ to people with real memory problems MORE.

One Republican source familiar with the impending document release says the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Justice Department are expected to coordinate the release of the documents. The release, the source noted, isn’t expected to happen this week.

House Republicans, who made a direct appeal to Trump to release the documents earlier this month, say the records will support their claims that the Russia probe has been tainted by political bias.

Former intelligence officials, however, say the monumental disclosure poses a serious conflict of interest since the documents are related to an investigation in which he is personally involved. 

“You don't have to be a legal expert to see that the president has a built-in conflict here to take some of the actions that he is taking because they relate to an investigation of people surrounding him,” Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI, told The Hill.

Officials say the move is not only unprecedented but also a short-sighted, politically motivated decision that could have long-term national security implications.

“It shows no regard at all for the judicial and the investigative process, which are the foundation of our system of laws. It is clearly being done as a purely political gamble,” said John McLaughlin, who served as acting director of the CIA during the Bush administration.

Hosko said he believes Trump and his allies are okay with the FBI being “collateral damage” as they seek to attack the Mueller probe, shrugging off concern if the bureau is damaged in the process.

The officials noted that if the document dump ultimately discloses sources and methods, then the intelligence community could suffer from a chilling effect on other sources who may be scared that their identities could be exposed in a political battle.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Year Ahead: Pressure mounts on election security as 2020 approaches Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — NRCC exposes security flaws 2 years after Russia hacks | Google Plus to shut down early | Scathing House report scolds Equifax for breach | McCarthy knocks Google ahead of CEO's hearing NRCC breach exposes gaps 2 years after Russia hacks MORE (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that he has read the documents and that the release could ultimately backfire on Republicans who demand the move.

“For some of these individuals who may not have read the documents, be careful what you wish for,” Warner told reporters Tuesday.

A Justice Department spokeswoman told The Hill about 30 House lawmakers have reviewed at least some of the classified documents, but declined to provide a list of specific names.

The Justice Department said Monday evening it had begun the process of declassifying the documents, but how that will happen is unclear. And if officials determine that there is too large of a risk in making some of the information in those documents public, it’s possible it could be redacted.

The federal Privacy Act, for example, blocks the release of individuals’ personal information in public government files, with some exemptions for congressional investigations or instances of law enforcement.

Trump has tried and failed to have information declassified in the past. His promise last year to release all files tied to the John F. Kennedy assassination was thwarted by intelligence officials who warned against making all of the information public.

Still, the release of these documents comes with higher stakes for Trump, who has repeatedly derided the Russia probe as a personal attack against him and said Tuesday that he wants “transparency” in the investigation. 

Trump, while speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, cited the congressional request in his decision to declassify the documents and again labeled the investigation a “witch hunt.”

“The things that have been found over the last couple of weeks about text messages back and forth are a disgrace to our nation,” the president said, referring to texts between former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok. All of their texts related to the Russia investigation are also set to be declassified under his order.

The texts between the two former FBI employees have served as a lightning rod for allegations that Justice Department officials are biased against Trump, after it was revealed the pair had exchanged disparaging messages about Trump and other political figures during the 2016 presidential race. Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team after the texts were revealed, and the FBI fired him last month.

Among the documents included in the order is a federal surveillance warrant application for Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser. A heavily redacted version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application was released publicly earlier this year by the DOJ under the Freedom of Information Act.

The FISA application for Carter Page has been at the center of conservative allegations of bias against the administration.

Critical lawmakers allege that it relied upon an unverified dossier containing unverified claims about Trump and his ties to Russia. They also charge that federal officials omitted key information in the surveillance application.

"The more you dig in here, you see that it looks like the crushing power of the state was used initially to take this dossier, dress it all up, take it to the secret court to get a warrant to spy on the other party's campaign," Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMeadows looks to make his move Comey’s confession: dossier not verified before, or after, FISA warrant Republicans missed best shot on keeping promise to cut spending MORE (R-Ohio), a Trump ally and fierce FBI critic, told Hill.TV on Monday.

“Clearing up so many outrageous misperceptions and lies probably won’t happen overnight,” Carter Page wrote in a text to The Hill on Tuesday, hinting that he believes the release of the full document could vindicate him.

Carter Page has come under scrutiny over his ties to Russia, some of which were cited in the previously released version of the FISA document. He has denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

When asked about the GOP claim that federal authorities possibly misled a surveillance court judge by omitting key information before submitting the application, the former intelligence officials indicated that they are less inclined to believe House Republicans’ assertions.

“I think aspects of it have already been intentionally misshaped, taken out of context by various entities for purposes that meet their purposes,” said Hosko, now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

Hosko added that releasing only a select set of pages from the FISA application, as the White House says it intends to do, may shield the public from seeing “significant information” that federal officials included in the surveillance memo.

Warner echoed these concerns Tuesday, noting that the Trump administration might choose to only release select passages from the documents, thereby offering a biased view of the intelligence used by DOJ officials.

“This clearly appears to be an effort to slow the investigation and impugn an investigation into the president’s own campaign,” Warner said.