Trump is abusing his power to declassify information and wielding it as a weapon in his ongoing war against the U.S. intelligence community.
In a move described as "stunning," "unprecedented," and "corrupt," the White House announced on Monday that Trump had ordered the declassification of highly sensitive materials from the Russia probe so they can be weaponized and used in the ongoing effort by Trump and his allies to undermine a national security investigation for political purposes.
According to a White House statement, Trump directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice, and the FBI to release selective portions of the classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application that allowed the FBI to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Trump also ordered "all FBI reports" prepared in connection with the FISA warrant application to be declassified and released.
In addition, Trump's order calls for the unredacted release of "all text messages relating to the Russia investigation" from former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and DOJ official Bruce Ohr.
All of those people have been targeted by Trump and his allies over the past year because of their roles in the Russia investigation.
The release of personal text messages from the named individuals appears to be yet another abuse of power by Trump aimed at exacting revenge against anyone in a position to hold him accountable, and sending a message to anyone who may try to hold him accountable in the future.
The order by Trump to declassify and release highly sensitive documents is just the latest attempt by Trump and his allies to weaponize the tools of America's intelligence agencies for the purpose of undermining an active national security investigation to shield Trump from potential legal jeopardy.
Republicans in Congress have been pushing for the release of these documents for months, asserting — without any evidence — that they contain some sort of proof of wrongdoing and bias within the FBI.
Federal officials have granted access to many of the documents, but in other instances they have opted to keep the materials secret to avoid compromising an open investigation or, worse, risking the lives of informants involved in the investigation.
Sen. Mark Warner, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned Monday that Trump "shouldn’t be declassifying documents in order to undermine an investigation into his campaign or pursue vendettas against political enemies. He especially shouldn’t be releasing documents with the potential to reveal intelligence sources."
As NBC News pointed out, Trump's order essentially throws these concerns aside and bypasses the standard safeguards in order to give his Republican allies access to the classified information they've been seeking in their quest to undermine the credibility of U.S. intelligence agencies.
"The documents Trump is releasing reflect a specific request, down to the page numbers, made by the Republican members of the House judiciary and intelligence committees this summer. Justice and intelligence officials had resisted releasing the information on the grounds that it was too sensitive," NBC noted.
While Trump and his accomplices in Congress claim they are acting in the interest of transparency, nothing could be further from the truth.
In his order, Trump cherry-picked specific information to release while opting to keep much of it hidden — not out of concern for national security, but out of concern that releasing all of the information would prove that the FBI was, in fact, acting entirely appropriately when it sought a surveillance warrant on Page.
For example, as USA Today investigative reporter Brad Heath noted, Trump ordered the declassification of parts of the FISA application in which the FBI restates Page's own denials, and other parts in which the FBI describes information they obtained from Christopher Steele, the author of the so-called "Steele Dossier."
But, Trump chose not to declassify or release sections of the application that "most directly lay out the government's (and the court's) basis for believing there was probable cause to find that Page was an agent of a foreign power," Heath added.
In other words, Trump is demanding that federal officials only release information that can be spun to prop up the false narrative he and his allies have been peddling for well over a year, while refusing to release any information that might reveal the truth.
As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti put it, "Trump ordered the release of sensitive information relating to the investigation of himself and his friends for his own political gain. That is corrupt, period."
This is not the first time Trump and his GOP allies have pushed for the release of sensitive intelligence in their ongoing effort to sabotage the Russia investigation by falsely smearing the U.S. intelligence community.
In fact, Trump's demand for declassification follows a familiar pattern that started shortly after he took office, when Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) secretly coordinated with the White House to fabricate "evidence" of improper unmasking to support Trump's lie about the Obama administration "wiretapping" Trump Tower.
Instead, it showed that Trump's wiretapping story was a lie and that the unmasking of Trump associates was not only done properly, but that it was unquestionably warranted due to the risk posed by incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn's secret meetings with Russian officials.
This same pattern emerged again when Nunes and his GOP colleagues demanded the release of a memo that they claimed would provide bombshell evidence about the FBI harboring a bias against Trump that tainted the agency's decision to launch the Russia probe. When the memo was finally released, it proved to be a complete flop that actually debunked the GOP's own anti-FBI talking points.
Still, Trump's accomplices in Congress have continued to demand access to more classified information in what can only be described as a desperate attempt to find something — anything — that can be twisted and spun into a false narrative to undermine the Russia investigation and everyone involved with it.
This tactic has failed at every turn. Each time classified information about the Russia probe has been released, the GOP's disinformation campaign has been further debunked. Moreover, instead of discrediting the FBI and DOJ, all of the classified materials that have been released have proven that the agencies conducted a scrupulous and fair investigation that was sparked by the Trump campaign's unscrupulous ties to Russia.
Already, the efforts by Trump and his allies to sabotage the ongoing Russia probe have endangered the lives of crucial informants and forced sources in Russia to go dark due to fears of being outed. This will have severe repercussions for national security that may last for years or even decades — but apparently that's a price Trump is willing to pay to protect himself.
However, it still remains unclear if Trump's demands will be met — and if they are, it may break the law.
Legal experts have raised concerns that Trump's order may violate the federal Privacy Act, which protects against the public disclosure of personal information contained in government records.
Furthermore, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff said he was informed by the FBI and DOJ that they would consider the release of these materials "a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods."
All of this comes at a bad time for Trump, as public opinion is turning sharply against him and in favor of special counsel Robert Mueller. At the same time, the Russia investigation only appears to be gaining steam with a new plea deal from former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who agreed to cooperate fully with investigators.
Clearly, Trump's efforts to sabotage the investigation aren't having their intended effect. He's fighting a losing battle, and he likely knows it — which explains why he's lashing out in such a desperate attempt to destroy the notion of truth before the truth destroys him.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.