Trump is Forced to Back Off Irresponsible Declassifications

I guess we finally got some indication of what it takes to pierce the bubble that Trump and his enablers live in all their damn lives. On Monday, Trump issued a statement that he would be compelling the declassification of highly sensitive information gleaned from undercover sources, foreign allies and unknown surveillance methods and used to justify an application for a warrant against Carter Page under suspicion that he was working as an agent of the Russian government. He also ordered the release of un-redacted text messages from former high-ranking FBI employees, including director James Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe, and the un-redacted transcripts of interviews that are still relevant to the ongoing Mueller investigation. He issued this statement under the advice of close but informal advisors, including Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressional sources told Fox News that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., does not know how soon he will get the documents, but said Trump’s order covers “pretty much everything that he wanted … and the text messages are a bonus.”

According to the sources, Nunes added: “Wow! This is a direct order.”

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called Trump’s decision “a clear abuse of power.”

Yet on Friday, he’s backed down on at least most of these threats. He gave a bit of an explanation on Thursday night for the reversal he announced Friday morning: “[W]e are also dealing with foreign countries that do have a problem, I must tell you. I got called today from two very good allies saying ‘Please, can we talk?’ It is not as simple as all of that. We do have to respect their wishes.”

The Washington Post reports that one of those allies was the United Kingdom. Instead of exposing sources to possible retaliation and damaging the willingness of allies (or sources) to share information with us in the future, Trump has consented to let the inspector general for the Department of Justice review the documents before they are released to the public. The ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee had a spot-on response:

“Thankfully it seems that saner minds have prevailed, at least for the time being,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). “This underscores why the President should be relying on the expertise and advice of intelligence and law enforcement professionals, not cable news hosts.”

Sen. Warner wasn’t engaged in hyperbole; he was responding to something Trump admitted in an interview with The Hill on Tuesday:

Buck Sexton: Have you reviewed the memos yourself? What do you expect them to show, if so?

President Trump: I have not reviewed them. I have been asked by many people in Congress as you know to release them. I have watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release them….I have been asked by so many people that I respect, please — the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful great Jeanie Pirro.

His Monday proclamation for complete declassification wasn’t immediately followed. Rather, a spokesperson for the Justice Department announced that they were “working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President’s order.” At the office of the Director of National Intelligence, spokesperson Kellie Wade told Fox News: “As requested by the White House, the ODNI is working expeditiously with our interagency partners to conduct a declassification review of the documents the President has identified for declassification.” Having bought time with those responses, foreign allies were summoned and White House lawyer Emmet Flood was brought in to meet with some senior members of the intelligence community, including deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein who is in charge of the Russia investigation.

In a tweet on Friday morning, the president acknowledged, “I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents. They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe,” which is a polite way of admitting that Rosenstein informed him that his order would build on a growing obstruction of justice case.

It took quite a bit of effort, but the bubble did get popped.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.