Home alone yesterday evening, and apparently emboldened by the steroids he is now taking, President Donald Trump sent out a storm of Tweets that included a unprecedentedly bold challenge to the FBI and CIA to stop their foot dragging and declassify documents related to Russiagate and Hillary Clinton.
It was probably his plummeting poll numbers as much as the steroids that accounted for his rhetorical forcefulness, but Trump has now openly thrown down the gauntlet to the National Security State.
Yes, he is the president, but he is not likely to prevail.
What the president-elect didn’t know on Jan. 3, 2017, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer publicly warned that the intelligence community “has six ways to Sunday” to thwart a president, he does know now.
Trump understands that taking on the FBI and CIA is inherently risky. His public upbraiding and instructions to them on Twitter should be seen as a sign of desperation.
Trump is likely to come across as impulsive and impotent in the weeks remaining before the election because – if past is precedent – the security agencies will probably double-down on slow-walking his declassification demands.
The stakes are high for senior officials of the FBI, CIA and Justice Department. Remember: they fully expected Hillary Clinton to win in 2016; they took liberties with the law to make sure she did; and, when she didn’t, they had to hustle to hide their tracks.
On Tuesday night Trump tweeted:
I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions! https://t.co/GgnHh9GOiq
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2020
“I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!”
In a subsequent tweet (now apparently deleted) the president added:
“All Russian Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago. Unfortunately for our Country, people have acted very slowly, especially since it is perhaps the biggest political crime in the history of our Country. Act!!!”
“Long ago?” A president, of course, has the authority to declassify virtually all classified intelligence-related information. Senior Republican congressmen have begged him again and again to use that authority.
During a TV interview Sunday, for example, Republican Devin Nunes, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, visibly agitated and angry, said:
“Every Republican senator and member of Congress should be saying… we want every damn bit of evidence that every intelligence agency has or it’s maybe time to shut those agencies down.”
Tilting Trump’s Tweets
Standard practice in recent years has seen the heads of the FBI and CIA take their own sweet time to comply – the more so, when the data to be declassified puts themselves in a negative or even criminal light.
The heads of the National Security State bureaucracy have shown considerable adroitness in finding ways to delay or simply not comply (as though invoking their Fifth Amendment rights regarding self-incrimination).
If they were to really “follow the book,” Executive Order 13526, section 1.7 provides that information that is evidence of a crime, should not remain classified.
On Oct. 21, 2017, Trump tweeted that in accordance with a law passed by Congress,
“I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.”
Six days later, came a headline in The Washington Post: “JFK files: The promise of revelations derailed by CIA, FBI.”
Trump’s decision to delay release of 30,000 of the potentially most sensitive files for another six months frustrated historians. The issue was supposed to be revisited in 180 days, but nothing further was heard of it.
Thus, 54 years after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the CIA and FBI demanded more time to decide what secrets to keep hiding – and a chastened President Trump bowed to their power.
Dragging Four Feet
It will take more than a presidential Tweet to get recalcitrant players like FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel, and the powerful institutions they lead, to comply.
Wray has been a major stumbling block and will remain inclined to give priority to protecting his former colleagues. Haspel, who reportedly was directly involved in the offshore Russiagate operations from her perch as CIA chief of station, London, has her own derriere, as well as those of her fellow workers, to protect.
Trump could have already fired both for slow-walking release of evidence. He could also fire them now, of course, but it is doubtful that, even on steroids, he would have the temerity to do so.
Big Hat, No Cattle
The current kerfuffle began a week ago when Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe dropped a bombshell in response to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham’s standing request for information regarding the FBI’s handling of its Russiagate investigation.
Ratcliffe provided the following declassified information to the committee:
“In late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against US Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The IC does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.
“According to his handwritten notes, former Central Intelligence Agency Director Brennan subsequently briefed President Obama and other senior national security officials on the intelligence, including the ‘alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.’
“On 07 September 2016, US intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok regarding ‘US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server.’”
Ratcliffe noted that “additional declassification and public disclosure of related intelligence remains under consideration.”
Those who harbored hopes for fuller disclosure were disappointed on Tuesday when Ratcliffe released notes taken by CIA Director John Brennan on a briefing to President Barack Obama about an alleged Hillary Clinton plot to dirty up the Trump campaign by linking it to the DNC Hack/Russia.
It was heavily redacted and shed no new light on what Ratcliffe had released a week ago.
While that particular “declassification” took place before Trump started his shower of Tweets Tuesday night, past experience suggests it may be a harbinger of things to come, even though Trump is now saying: “No redactions!”
Seeing is believing. The de-classifiers will have to do a far better job to satisfy the demands of Nunes and others for release of additional “smoking gun” documents said to contain details of Russian intelligence referring to the reported authorization given by Hillary Clinton to link President Trump to Kremlin “interference” in the 2016 election.
Did Hillary Clinton Make It All Up?
If Americans had read more than what is in The New York Times, they would not be surprised at that possibility. Are they not aware that the NYT does not carry all the news that’s fit to print?
If they looked beyond the Times, they might have learned that exactly five months ago, on May 7, 2020, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff was forced to release sworn testimony by former FBI official Shawn Henry, head of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, that there is no technical evidence that the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks were hacked – by Russia, or by anyone else.
Adding insult to injury, Schiff was able to hide Henry’s testimony from Dec. 5, 2017, until May 7, 2020. Quick! Someone tell the Times that another five-month delay on top of that is not on.
If you didn’t know that the evidence-impoverished charge that the Russians hacked the DNC emails had fallen apart, recall that then-FBI Director James Comey deferred to CrowdStrike to do the forensics on the so-called “Russian hack” of the DNC.
Moreover, if you reconstruct the events at the end of July 2016 and notice how Clinton and the Democrats poured blame on Trump and the Russians with the support of the intelligence community, especially the FBI and CIA – not to mention the full throated support of the Establishment media – you wouldn’t need a report from Russian intelligence to figure out who might be behind Russiagate, and why.
So Mr. President, go ahead and declassify and un-redact. But much of the information is already available – just not on “mainstream media.” You can start by searching Consortiumnews.com.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). This originally appeared at Consortium News.