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GOP Senators Pursue Declassification Of Trump-Russia Records As Window Of Opportunity Closes

  • Two Republican senators are calling on the Justice Department to declassify a May 2017 FBI memo regarding the investigation of the Trump campaign. 
  • The request, from Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, indicates that Republicans are continuing their push to declassify Trump-Russia documents. 
  • The senators asserted that ‘there is a strong public interest’ in learning what ‘really transpired’ during the FBI’s investigation of the Trump team. 
  • The Biden administration is unlikely to declassify the documents currently sought by Republicans. 

Senate Republicans are calling on the Justice Department to declassify additional documents related to the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, saying that “there is a strong public interest” in finding out “what really transpired” during the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.

Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson asked Attorney General William Barr in a letter released this week to declassify an FBI memo from May 2017, that discussed the status of Crossfire Hurricane, the code name for the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of four Trump campaign advisers.

The senators published a partially-redacted document entitled “Director’s Briefing Notes,” which provided updates on investigations into Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. The memo also includes updates on the FBI’s efforts to validate the Steele dossier, which the bureau used in order to obtain warrants to surveil Page.

“We request that the entire document be further declassified,” Grassley and Johnson wrote Barr.

Republicans have less than two months until Joe Biden enters the White House. The Democratic president-elect is unlikely to continue the GOP-led push for declassification of documents related to the dossier or Crossfire Hurricane.

The Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have declassified a slew of documents this year regarding the dossier and the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe.

ODNI declassified footnotes from an inspector general’s report that said that the FBI received evidence in 2017 that Russian intelligence operatives may have fed disinformation to Christopher Steele.

The Justice Department declassified a memo of interviews that Steele’s primary source, Igor Danchenko, gave the FBI in January 2017 regarding the dossier. Danchenko’s interview undercut the credibility of parts of the dossier, the IG report said.

Without Republican control of the Justice Department and intelligence community, Republicans’ only remaining hope for answers about the Trump-related investigations is John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut.

Durham has since April 2019 investigated the origins of Crossfire Hurricane, and other aspects of the intelligence-gathering activities against Trump and his aides.

The investigation has yielded one prosecution so far. Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI lawyer, pleaded guilty on Aug. 19 to altering an email regarding Carter Page. The Justice Department has not confirmed if Durham plans to issue any indictments in his investigation, or release a report.

Numerous other questions remain unanswered regarding the dossier and FBI probe.

It is still unclear, for example, what steps the FBI took to investigate Steele’s allegations.

The FBI memo that Grassley and Johnson want to be declassified could answer some of those remaining questions.

The memo includes heavily redacted sections “regarding the FBI’s efforts to investigate allegations in the Steele dossier.”

One paragraph refers to investigators “querying the existing FBI [confidential human sources] for Steele validation.”

The special counsel’s office and Justice Department inspector general released reports that undercut the core theory of the dossier: that the Trump campaign was involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” to influence the 2016 election.

The IG’s report said that the FBI made at least 17 “significant” errors and omissions, many related to the dossier, in its applications to surveil Carter Page. Republicans have blasted the FBI for relying heavily on Steele’s information without first verifying it.

The FBI memo could also shed light on what steps the FBI took to investigate Steele’s most specific allegation of Trump-Russia collusion.

The memo discusses a plan to investigate Steele’s allegation that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials to arrange payments to hackers. The memo indicates that investigators had submitted an unspecified request in late April 2017 as part of its efforts to validate the Cohen allegation.

Reports from the special counsel and Justice Department inspector general debunked the allegation about Cohen.

BY CHUCK ROSS

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