On Thursday, President Donald Trump issued a memorandum directing the intelligence agency heads to comply and cooperate with “a review of intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election.” The memorandum also gave Attorney General William Barr the authority to declassify information pertaining to the investigation.
For several years, government officials from the Obama administration had alleged in anonymous leaks to friendly reporters that Trump was a traitor who had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton. After nearly a year of investigation at the FBI, which included the use of wiretaps, national security letters, and overseas intelligence assets deployed against the campaign, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein launched a special counsel to further investigate the claim.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller ended his nearly two-year probe with a determination that neither Trump nor his campaign — and indeed no Americans at all — had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election. That probe, whose overwhelmingly Democrat participants bristled at the charge they were engaged in a “witch hunt,” did attempt to show that Trump’s complaints against the false smear were tantamount to “obstruction of justice,” but was unable to do so.
Media who are implicated in perpetuating the false allegation that Trump was a traitor reacted poorly to the news that Barr was given authority to bring some transparency to the Russia collusion narrative that had been effective precisely because it was shrouded in secrecy.
As bizarre as it is for journalists to fight transparency — MSNBC’s Trump-bruised Joe Scarborough said declassifying documents is what an “autocrat” does — it matches the talking points of those inside the agencies who worry about their activities being exposed. With the implosion of the Russia collusion theory, neither the sources nor their compliant journalist buddies who promised “bombshell” after “bombshell” are covered in glory.
As the media carry water for their leaking sources who selectively released information to perpetuate a false conspiracy theory of Russia collusion, it is worth remembering other recent times they claimed that transparency would have devastating results.
1. Hiding Andrew McCabe’s $70,000 Conference Table
In May 2018, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) revealed that unnecessary redactions of information requested by his Senate Judiciary Committee had gotten ridiculous. Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who was fired for lying about his leaks to the media in an unrelated probe, spent $70,000 on a conference table. The Department of Justice redacted that fact — obviously not for national security reasons.
“I am unaware of any legitimate basis on which the cost of a conference table should be redacted. Embarrassment is not a good enough reason. The manner in which some redactions have been used casts doubt on whether the remaining redactions are necessary and defensible,” Grassley wrote in a letter to Rosenstein.
2. HPSCI Report Was Supposed To End Republic
As the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence prepared to release information about abuse of the secret court that permit the government to spy on American citizens, the Justice Department released a letter to the press saying the action was “extraordinarily reckless,”would be “damaging” to “national security,” and would risk “damage to our intelligence community or the important work it does in safeguarding the American people.”
That was obviously not true. While the report revealed actions that embarrassed the FBI and Department of Justice, the revelations did not damage national security except insofar as they revealed to the world that law enforcement and intelligence were engaged in wrongdoing.
Justice and the FBI also have a pattern of redacting huge swaths of reports and letters to and from Congress as part of their oversight investigation into the spying on the Trump campaign. When the redactions are lessened, they reveal not sensitive information that affects national security so much as embarrassing details about how Justice and FBI have conducted business. Examples here and here.
3. Stefan Halper’s Outing By WaPo and NYT
Among the most bizarre tag-team actions by the media and their sources was the outing of Stefan Halper in the pages of The New York Times and Washington Post — all while claiming that others were doing the outing.
As Congress, performing oversight, began asking questions about the running of human informants against an opposing party’s presidential campaign, the media began quoting their sources saying that merely asking questions about this was tantamount to outing the individual.
They then began revealing more than enough information about the individual to determine that it was Stefan Halper, whose life they said would be threatened if it was revealed that he was in the employ of the U.S. government instead of the Cambridge academic he claimed to be.
While the claim rang hollow, it was true that the revelation of Halper’s identity was embarrassing for those agencies who were paying him millions of dollars to manufacture dirt on political enemies. And it was embarrassing, too, for the media who willfully swallowed those leaks and printed them even when told they were false, such as a Wall Street Journal story suggesting that Mike Flynn had an affair with a Russian woman.
The New York Times appears to be trying this game again by revealing information about another source that was used to perpetuate the false conspiracy theory. The leakers of this information to The New York Times would likely be very high level, perhaps from the previous administration.
Opposing parties’ political campaigns should not be spied on. False claims of conspiracies should not be weaponized by political opponents in government perches. To ensure that there is justice for those who engaged in this dangerous conduct — and to ensure it doesn’t happen against Americans and their president again — transparency is needed.
The implicated parties — whether in the media or in the government — have cried wolf too many times to be taken seriously again. It is time for some transparency about the
spying use of overseas intelligence assets, wiretaps, national security letters, and other actions against the Trump campaign.