Outrageous Redactions to the Russia Report
The FBI and DOJ have been burying the investigators’ questionable judgments and information helpful to Flynn.
Cute how this works: Kick off the week with some “the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted” bombast from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, by which he rationalizes that his defiance of subpoenas and slow-walking document production to Congress — which is probing investigative irregularities related to the 2016 campaign — is required by DOJ policy and “the rule of law.” Then end the week with the Friday-night bad-news dump: the grudging removal of DOJ and FBI redactions from a House Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s election meddling.
Now that we can see what they wanted to conceal, it is clear, yet again, that the Justice Department and the FBI cannot be trusted to decide what the public gets to learn about their decision-making.
They tell us that their lack of transparency is necessary for the protection of national security, vital intelligence, and investigative operations. But what we find out is that they were concealing their own questionable judgments and conflicting explanations for their actions; their use of foreign-intelligence and criminal-investigative authorities to investigate Michael Flynn, Trump’s top campaign supporter and former national-security adviser; and their explicitly stated belief that Flynn did not lie in the FBI interview for which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has since prosecuted him on false-statements charges.
It is simply ridiculous for President Trump to continue bloviating about this situation on Twitter and in friendly media interviews, and for congressional Republicans to continue pretending that the problem is Justice Department and FBI leadership — as if Trump were not responsible for his own administration’s actions. The president has not only the authority but the duty to ensure that his subordinates honor lawful disclosure requests from Congress.
What happened with these redactions is inexcusable.
A little over a week ago, the House committee chaired by Representative Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) published its lengthy report on report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The report was actually completed weeks earlier but was withheld while the committee battled to disclose information that the Justice Department and FBI insisted on blacking out. As usual, the DOJ claimed that the declassification and release of the information would damage investigations and national security. No, it wouldn’t, countered Chairman Nunes and other Republicans who knew what had been redacted.
When the Comey memos were finally disclosed, we learned that there was no investigative or national-security reason to have concealed them.
This has become a depressingly familiar dance. Justice and the Bureau previously insisted that the sky would fall if Congress forced the release of an Intelligence Committee report on government abuse of foreign-intelligence surveillance powers. To the contrary, we learned that the FBI and DOJ had used the unverified Steele dossier to obtain surveillance warrants on at least one person tied to the Trump campaign, in contravention of express guidelines that “only documented and verified information may be used to support FBI applications to the [FISA] court” (see Nunes’s March 1 letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions). In addition, we learned that the FISA court was not told that the dossier was a Clinton campaign opposition-research project, and that its author, Christopher Steele, had been terminated as an informant for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the media.
More recently, the FBI severely restricted access to former FBI director James Comey’s memos of his meetings with President Trump. Finally, three congressional committees protested that there was no legal basis for such restriction. When the memos were finally disclosed, we learned that there was no investigative or national-security reason to have concealed them. They did, however, provide greater insight about such matters as how a briefing of then-president-elect Trump on a salacious sliver of the dossier (but not on its sensational allegations of a traitorous conspiracy with the Kremlin) led to an intelligence-community leak about the briefing and the consequent media publication of the dossier — the backbone of the media-Democratic “collusion with Russia” narrative. (See Mollie Hemingway’s analysis at The Federalist.)
That leads us to last Friday’s disclosure of some — but not nearly all — previously redacted sections of the Intelligence Committee’s Russia Report.