White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said President Trump is pushing for further declassifications of intelligence documents related to the Russia investigation even while he is recovering from the coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Trump has been at the hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, since Friday and plans to head back to the White House in the evening on Monday, but his multi-day stay hasn’t stopped him from taking an interest in records that have been pursued by Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, the top White House aide indicated during a Monday morning appearance on Fox and Friends on Monday.
“Obviously, this is an important day as the president continues to improve and is ready to get back to a normal work schedule. He’s already this morning — we’ve had a couple of discussions on items that he wants to get done,” Meadows said. “Candidly, he’s already tasked me with getting some declassification rolling in a follow-up to some of the requests that Devin Nunes and others have made.”
The chief of staff was likely referring to declassification requests Nunes discussed on Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. The California Republican called for two broad sets of Trump-Russia investigative documents to be released. The first tranche relates to an unverified Russian intelligence analysis revealed by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and describing an alleged effort by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to tie Trump’s campaign to the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee. The second is related to British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s primary sub-source, revealed to be U.S.-based and Russian-trained lawyer Igor Danchenko, who undercut the reliability of Steele’s discredited dossier during FBI interviews in January, March, and May of 2017. Only the January interview has been made public so far.
“The documents that are underlying that we now have seen — I’ve only seen a few of those — they’re definitely smoking guns. That information definitely needs to be made available to the American public. And, from what I understand, there’s even more underlying evidence that backs up what Director Ratcliffe put out,” Nunes said Sunday. “We want every damn bit of evidence that every intelligence agency has … [Danchenko] was interviewed three times. And in fact, he was even supposedly given a get-out-of-jail-free card because he testified. The American public needs to see the three reports that we know about at least from the Democrats’ Russian spy that they hired. So those are additional documents that we need to see.”
Meadows, himself a former congressional investigator, told Fox Business nearly a month ago that he has seen “additional” documents that spell “real trouble” for certain government officials who were involved in the Russia investigation “because of their willingness to participate in an unlawful act, and I use the word unlawful at best. It broke all kinds of protocols, and at worst, people should go to jail, as I mentioned previously.”
Ratcliffe sent ta one-page letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham last week, which said U.S. intelligence agencies obtained, in late July 2016, “insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.” But, Ratcliffe stressed, the intelligence community “does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.” Ratcliffe’s letter said that handwritten notes by former CIA Director John Brennan show he briefed former President Barack Obama on the unverified Russian intelligence.
Nick Shapiro, the former deputy chief of staff to Brennan, told the Washington Examiner that “DNI Ratcliffe should be ashamed of his blatant politicization of his position.”
“It’s very disturbing to me that 35 days before an election, a director of national intelligence would release unverified Russian rumint,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, told reporters.
Ratcliffe released a statement to the Washington Examiner less than two hours after Graham unveiled his letter to address the backlash. “To be clear, this is not Russian disinformation and has not been assessed as such by the intelligence community,” he said.
Former FBI Director James Comey claimed to have no knowledge of and declined to talk about Ratcliffe’s letter during questioning by Graham during a hearing last week. Graham asked if Comey recalled “getting an inquiry from the intelligence community in September 2016 about a concern that the Clinton campaign was going to create a scandal regarding Trump and Russia.” The fired FBI director replied, “I do not.”
Graham also recently made public declassified documents showing the FBI had previously investigated Danchenko as a possible “threat to national security.”
A summary of the FBI’s three-day interview with Danchenko in January 2017 was declassified earlier this year, but the FBI’s March and May 2017 follow-ups with Steele’s main source have not been disclosed.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report said that during the March 2017 interview, Danchenko “felt that the tenor of Steele’s reports was far more ‘conclusive’ than was justified.” An FBI interviewer said Danchenko “made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources” and that “it was just talk.” Danchenko told the FBI that his information was “word of mouth and hearsay” and “conversation that he/she had with friends over beers” and that some of the information, including the most salacious allegations, were statements he heard made in “jest.” Danchenko told the FBI “that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information” and that he takes what his own Russian sources told him with “a grain of salt.”
The DOJ watchdog said that during the May 2017 interview with bureau agents, Danchenko informed the FBI “that Steele tasked him/her after the 2016 U.S. elections to find corroboration for the election reporting” and that he told the bureau that the corroboration was “zero.”
Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report also indicate the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller released an April 2019 report concluding the Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”