Politics & Policy

Trump Declassifies Information on Russia Investigations, but It May Be Too Late

President Trump makes an announcement about his treatment for COVID-19 in Washington, D.C., October 7, 2020. (The White House via Reuters)
The American people needed to know the truth about efforts by the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration to sabotage the president’s campaign sooner.

President Trump made a stunning announcement this week when he ordered the declassification of all documents related to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s misuse of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Trump’s decision was heavily influenced by a recent letter from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe to the Senate Judiciary Committee revealing that Russian intelligence believed in July 2016 that Clinton had personally authorized a scheme to smear the Republican nominee for colluding with Russia to distract from the scandal that had arisen over her private email server. Ratcliffe reported that this knowledge came from then-CIA director John Brennan’s notes, and that although it may have been Russian disinformation, it was taken seriously enough at the time that President Obama was briefed on it and it was referred to the FBI for an investigation.

In light of the Ratcliffe letter, Trump said “Enough!” He is fed up with years of delays and in getting the truth out on the Russia collusion hoax. The letter, which included crucial details on the hoax that have been kept from the American people since 2017, was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Specifically, the president’s decision is a rebuke of former DNI Dan Coats and current CIA director Gina Haspel. Coats turned a blind eye toward the hoax and at times even seemed to promote it. He also, like Haspel, repeatedly blocked the release of information to Congress related to it. A House Intelligence Committee source has told me that Haspel is currently blocking the release and declassification of a House Intelligence Committee report that found Brennan personally blocked the inclusion of intelligence from a January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment which stated that Russia wanted Clinton to win the 2016 presidential election.

The president’s decision also suggests that he is fed up with John Durham, the federal prosecutor reviewing the FBI’s Russia investigation for Attorney General William Barr. Many have argued for months that the president and senior intelligence officials should not declassify information on Russian meddling in the 2016 election because it would interfere with Durham’s investigation. But Durham has been at this since April 2019 and has done a disservice to the American people by not releasing his report well ahead of the 2020 presidential election so they can factor it into how they vote this November. The president’s declassification decision reflects his belief that at this late date, Durham’s report won’t matter, and it is more important to get the truth of efforts by the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration to sabotage his campaign and his presidency to the public now.

While I agree with the president’s decision, I also believe it comes too late. Four years of partisan rancor over Russian meddling in the 2016 election have left most Americans numb to new developments in the scandal. They don’t want to hear any more about it. I also believe the president was not well served by numerous senior advisers and congressmen who counseled him to wait for the outcome of congressional investigations and Durham’s inquiry. Ambassador Richard Grenell, as acting DNI, and DNI Ratcliffe took aggressive steps to declassify documents on this issue and gave the president better advice, but unfortunately this only started when these men assumed their intelligence posts in 2020.

Historians and experts will be writing postmortems on the Trump presidency for decades to come. I believe it will eventually be established that the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration not only tried to sabotage the Trump campaign but interfered with the peaceful transfer of power from the Obama to Trump. I also believe these experts and historians will conclude that Trump made some significant errors in staffing top national-security positions at the ODNI, CIA, State Department, Defense Department, FBI, and NSC that he only began to correct far too late.

As President Reagan once said, “personnel is policy.” We now know President Trump needed loyal advisers in top national-security jobs to keep partisan careerists in check, see that his policies were implemented, and insist on transparency in the Russian investigations. My hope is that Trump, if he is reelected, will build on excellent nominations such as Ratcliffe’s to create a government of such advisers and make U.S. national-security agencies less political and more accountable.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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