'Walls closing in on' Trump, as president orders release of FBI texts

  18 September 2018    Read: 1265

Donald Trump has ordered the declassification of surveillance documents and FBI text messages relating to the Russia investigation in a move branded a “clear abuse of power”.

The president’s decision to intervene in the ongoing probe into interference in the 2016 election campaign comes in the wake of the guilty plea deal by his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A statement released by the White House said the president had directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department to declassify the documents “at the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency.”

The first part of the order relates to blacked-out sections of the surveillance application relating to Mr Trump’s former campaign adviser, Carter Page, in June 2017.

Mr Trump also directed the public release of all text messages relating to the Russia probe of former FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, lawyer Lisa Page, special agent agent Peter Strzok and justice department official Bruce Ohr.

The officials named in the order have all been repeatedly attacked by the president over the last year as he repeatedly claimed that the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller was a “rigged Witch Hunt“.

Both the Justice Department and the office of the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said they are working to comply with the order.

Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called Mr Trump’s decision a “clear abuse of power” that would cross a “red line”.

He said: “President Trump has intervened again in a pending investigation by ordering the selective disclosure of classified materials he believes to be helpful to his defense.”

Congressmen Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York, both Democrats on the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, said in a statement that Mr Trump’s actions were a “direct and frantic response” to Manafort’s recent guilty plea and cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.

“With the walls clearly closing in on him, President Trump is lashing out with this extraordinarily reckless and irresponsible release of classified information in a desperate attempt to distract from the seven guilty pleas and the mounting evidence of multiple criminal enterprises among his closest advisors,” they said.

David Kris, former assistant attorney general for national security issues, said the release of the classified pages of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court orders was “off the charts”.

Noah Bookbinder, the director of a government ethics watchdog and a former federal corruption prosecutor, said the “selective declassification of materials to undercut an investigation into him is dangerous and undemocratic.”

“But it’s not surprising in the wake of the investigation’s biggest success with Paul Manafort agreeing to cooperate,” he added.

Mr Trump’s move was welcomed by his Republican allies, with North Carolina representative Mark Meadows claiming that it was “absolutely the right call” that would allow the public to decide “what happened at the highest levels of their FBI and Justice Department.”

The June 2017 FISA application was the last of four filed by the Justice Department in support of court orders allowing the monitoring of Carter Page for nearly a year from October 2016.

Three of the previously-redacted pages are in a section titled “The Russian Government’s Coordinated Efforts to Influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election”, which refers to potential coordination involving people associated with Trump’s campaign.

The other 18 pages appear to relate to information that came from former British spy Christopher Steele, whose dossier featured the allegation Mr Trump used prostitutes while visiting Moscow.

Mr Trump has also ordered the declassification of all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with the FISA applications and FBI interviews with Bruce Ohr, who was in contact with Mr Steele, in relation to the Russia investigation.

“He is absolutely lawless,” tweeted Democrat Eric Swalwell, a California representative on the intelligence committee. “He is the subject of an investigation. Using his power to selectively release classified information is an abuse of power.

“His days of unchecked abuse are numbered. Tick tock.”


The Independent

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