Declassification of Russia investigation materials poses a risky gambit for GOP

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/11/2018, 9:59 a.m.
An outspoken bloc of House conservatives continues to call on President Donald Trump to declassify materials related to the Russia ...
Declassification of Russia investigation materials poses a risky gambit for GOP.

By Manu Raju and Laura Jarrett, CNN

(CNN) -- An outspoken bloc of House conservatives continues to call on President Donald Trump to declassify materials related to the Russia investigation as soon as this week, but their latest effort could backfire if it fails to confirm their allegations of serious misconduct, according to several current and former US officials.

Republicans who are pushing hard for the public release of the documents flatly acknowledge they are not sure whether the move will help or hurt their arguments about improper conduct in the Russia investigation.

"We don't know, which is why we need to see them," said Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the House Freedom Caucus and a leading critic of the Russia probe, when asked what he believes the documents will show. "Transparency is a good thing, and the American people need to know what's in there."

For months, Trump's allies on Capitol Hill have championed the narrative that the Justice Department and FBI wrongfully obtained a surveillance order on Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and their main argument focused on the memos of salacious material authored by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who they say harbored anti-Trump bias they claim was not fully disclosed in the FISA application or its renewals.

The FBI released redacted versions of the FISA warrant applications in July, prompting calls by some Republicans for declassification they believe would help them make their case publicly that the warrant was inappropriately obtained. The redacted FISA application showed that the FBI raised concerns that Page was the subject of Russian recruitment and might have been working with the Kremlin, allegations Page has denied. And in a footnote, it did disclose a political motivation behind the Steele dossier, specifically saying that the person behind it was likely looking for information to discredit Trump's campaign.

Some 30 members of Congress have reviewed largely unredacted copies of the highly sensitive FISA applications, but several of the most vocal proponents of the current declassification campaign have not.

Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a close ally of Trump's, acknowledged he wasn't aware of what information is contained in the documents.

"I just believe transparency is better -- regardless of which narrative it helps," Meadows told CNN.

Republicans are also now asking Trump to release the FBI's interview notes, known as 302s, from interviews with Justice official Bruce Ohr after his meetings with both Steele and Glenn Simpson, the head of the research firm Fusion GPS that hired Steele.

But further removing redactions on the FISAs and releasing the 302s could run the risk of upending the narrative House Republicans have spent months crafting if the documents confirm that the FBI had more than the dossier to justify the surveillance of Page -- and if they show that Ohr was working appropriately in reporting leads in the Russia probe.

Political jockeying with intelligence gleaned in the Russia investigation has already resulted in public confirmation of inconvenient facts for Trump allies.