In an unprecedented move that stunned current and former intelligence officials, President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the public release of highly classified documents and text messages related to the FBI investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia.
A statement by the White House press office said Trump had directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice and the FBI to declassify about 20 pages of a highly sensitive application for surveillance against Carter Page, a one-time Trump foreign policy aide.
The president suggested two weeks ago that he was considering such a move, but many hoped Trump was just blowing off steam and he’d end up in a more responsible place. That’s obviously not what happened.
Instead, the president ignored the concerns of the intelligence community and federal law enforcement officials, ordering the release of highly specific materials and excerpts requested by far-right members of Congress.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, issued a blistering statement on the developments, arguing, “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. 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. This is evidently of no consequence to a president who cares about nothing about the country and everything about his narrow self-interest.”
That reference to “a red line that must not be crossed” was of particular interest – because it suggests Trump’s actions, which put his interests above the nation’s, can be fairly described as dangerous.
Davis Kris, the former head of the Justice Department’s national security division, came to a similar conclusion.
“The release of [FISA materials] like this is off the charts. It is especially unprecedented considering that the [documents] have already gone through declassification review and the president is overruling the judgments of his subordinates to require expanded disclosure.
“The president has the literal authority to do this, but here, as in so many other areas, his exercise of authority is tainted by a severe conflict of interest, as he is a subject of investigation to which these [FISA materials] pertain.
“This is perhaps the signal feature of many of his worst actions – he seems assiduously to view and engage with everything through the straw-sized aperture of his own self-interest instead of the broader national interest.”
That’s no small charge. The former head of the Justice Department’s national security division believes the sitting president is abusing his power and undermining his own country’s interests in order to protect himself.
It’s an extraordinary series of events: Trump and his political operation are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, and he’s now ordering the release of sensitive materials pertaining to that investigation, despite warnings from relevant officials and agencies.
I’m cognizant of the fact that the word “unprecedented” is probably used a bit too often when describing the antics surrounding this presidency, but the fact remains that Americans have never seen any president act this way.
Trump is interfering with an ongoing federal investigation, and he’s not making much of an effort to hide it.