For the most part, Donald Trump has been quite candid about his motivations for ordering the public release of highly classified materials related to the Russia investigation, ignoring the advice of officials in his own administration. The president has said he’s willing to tolerate the potential dangers to the country in order to undermine the ongoing federal probe.
Indeed, in his interview with The Hill, Trump said he wants the cherry-picked documents to be released in the hopes of showing that the investigation is based on a “hoax.” The fact that the president hasn’t read the materials, and has no idea what they say, apparently wasn’t a deterrent.
But there was something else he said about his rationale that stood out for me.
“I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn’t like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going,” he said.
In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said.
Ah yes, there’s that word again. In May, when Trump ordered a highly sensitive intelligence briefing for some members of Congress, in which law enforcement officials were instructed to share information on a confidential human source, the president defended the move by saying, “What I want is I want total transparency…. You have to have transparency.”
A few months earlier, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a sycophantic ally of the White House, prepared a “memo” with classified information he wanted to release in order to help Trump. Ignoring the concerns of his own FBI director, the president endorsed the release of the document.
Team Trump insisted at the time, too, that this was all about “transparency.”
Now, evidently, the president has re-discovered the rhetorical convenience of the word, which is a shame given the circumstances.
As we’ve discussed before, some might find the “transparency” pitch persuasive at first blush. After all, isn’t sharing pertinent information with multiple parties an inherently good thing?
There are a few problems to keep in mind. First, Trump and his team aren’t really pursuing a policy of total transparency, choosing instead to pursue a course of selective transparency. The White House isn’t emptying its files of relevant materials; it’s very carefully declassifying specific documents, down to the page number, that far-right congressional Republicans requested as part of a partisan charade. Other equally significant documents will remain hidden.
Second, when it comes to national security matters, secrecy is often a vital necessity. If Republicans, through their partisan antics, signal to the world that the United States is careless when protecting its classified information, putting sources and methods at risk, the consequences may be severe.
And third, Trump is clearly the wrong messenger for this message. He is, after all, the guy who hides his tax returns, the White House visitor logs, and even relevant information about his Supreme Court nominee.
“All I want to do is be transparent,” the president said yesterday. If Trump is ready to apply that standard to his presidency, much of the country would be grateful.