A group of conservative Republicans are asking President Donald Trump to declassify, within the next week, several key documents from the FBI’s investigations into the president’s suspected Russia ties. The move would circumvent the federal law enforcement agencies members have been clashing with for months to procure the information.
“Mr. President, we need your help,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said during a news conference announcing the appeal, promising that the information would help members expose “the rotten basis for the investigations that continue, solely to delegitimize the duly elected president of the United States.”
The members, led by Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., are asking Trump to publicly release 20 pages from the FBI’s application to conduct surveillance against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, along with footnotes, omitting only information that would expose intelligence-gathering techniques. They also want the president to make public documents they believe contain exculpatory evidence that was left out of the FBI’s application, which have already been shared with the Gang of Eight, a group of congressional leaders and the head of the intelligence committees that are privy to the most sensitive intelligence.
Finally, the conservative Republicans want Trump to declassify the “302s,” or official memos, from 12 interviews Justice Department official Bruce Ohr conducted between late 2016 and May 2017 with Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial dossier alleging Trump had various business and personal ties to Russia. Conservative Republicans have charged that the dossier was the entire basis for the surveillance application on Page — a charge federal law enforcement and intelligence officials dispute.
The FBI’s application to surveil Page that is in question was filed in October 2016, and then periodically renewed. Members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees interviewed Ohr behind closed doors last month.
The members believe that once declassified, the combined documents will show that the FBI knew, but failed to tell the court, things about the dossier that would have undermined the merits of the application — including that Steele was against Trump’s campaign to be president.
“Powers were abused, the FISA court was misled, and we have zero tolerance for any of it,” Zeldin said. “The government has a responsibility not only to provide its best evidence in support of its application but also the best evidence it has against its case. In this case, the DOJ failed to do so.”
The president does have the authority to declassify documents, though typically, such decisions are made following a procedure that involves careful scrutiny from other members of the administration, as well as the department involved. It is not clear that Trump will heed the Republicans’ request, but Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who is close to the president, said he has “not seen a major pushback on this request, as long as it protects sources and methods” of intelligence collection from becoming public.
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