President Trump on Monday ordered the declassification of FISA court documents and Justice Department text messages related to the Russia probe.
House and Senate intelligence committee Republicans have been seeking the FISA documents — warrant applications that could shed light on how the FBI in 2016 justified spying on Carter Page, a Trump campaign official.
Republicans say the documents point to a politically motivated effort to smear Mr. Trump by accusing him of colluding with the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats say the FISA documents are a distraction and part of an attempt by Republicans to protect the president from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Mr. Trump insists neither he nor his campaign colluded with Moscow and the probe is a “witch hunt.”
The president ordered the declassification of 19 pages of the application to the secret FISA court that approves surveillance on U.S. citizens, all FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation, and all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all FISA applications regarding Mr. Page.
Mr. Ohr, then an associate deputy attorney general, acted as a conduit between the FBI, opposition research firm Fusion GPS and the former British spy who compiled an unverified dossier containing salacious claims about Mr. Trump, attributed to Russian sources.
The FBI produced nine reports on debriefings of Mr. Ohr, whose wife, Nellie Ohr, worked at Fusion GPS.
The Justice Department said the order would not result in immediate release of the document.
“When the President issues such an order, it triggers a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House Counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America’s national security interests. The Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already working with the Director of National Intelligence to comply with the President’s order,” said a Justice Department spokesman.
Still, Mr. Trump’s order can only add to the friction between himself and his Justice Department.
The president frequently scolds Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who, to the president’s dismay, recused himself form the Russia probe. He also rebuked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for blocking release of the probe documents to congressional committees.
Mr. Trump also directed the Department of Justice and FBI to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation from the key players in the genesis of the probe of suspected Trump-Kremlin collusion.
Besides Mr. Ohr, those players include former FBI Director James B. Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who spearheaded the collusion probe, said Mr. Trump crossed a “red line.”
“President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative,” he said.
“With respect to some of these materials, I have been previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider their release a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods,” he said. “This is evidently of no consequence to a President who cares about nothing about the country and everything about his narrow self-interest.”
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