President Trump breezily dismissed warnings from national security experts this week in ordering the release of classified documents related to the roots of the Russia investigation.
But he hasn't actually read the pages he’s decided to publish, he told Hill.TV in an interview released Wednesday. Instead, he’s relying on the word of his allies in Congress, who’ve clamored for the documents to be put out there.
“I have not reviewed them,” Trump told Hill.TV. “I have been asked by many people in Congress, as you know, to release them.”
The president’s not alone here, apparently: Some of Congress’s loudest boosters for dumping the documents haven’t actually read them either, according to CNN.
They should have, say career national security officials, who warn that releasing confidential documents could cause further damage to the American intelligence and law enforcement communities already on edge from previous attacks by the president.
The documents in question are 21 pages of a court application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order to monitor former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. On Monday, Trump ordered a narrow band of specific pages — out of a total of more than 400 — to be released in full, along with FBI interviews and text message transcripts of several of his least-favorite former FBI and Department of Justice officials, including ex-FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The goal of this unprecedented disclosure, security experts warned: to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which snared its biggest fish to date in September with the guilty plea of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
“President Trump is laboring under a massive conflict here, and overruling the experts,” said David Kris, who served as assistant attorney general for national security under former president Barack Obama, after working as associate deputy attorney general under Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush. “It’s extraordinary.”
“Trump is feeling the heat, and he’s trying to inoculate himself to whatever the Mueller report says.”
Longtime national security professionals say that releasing unredacted FISA applications could expose secret intelligence-gathering techniques — including some that might feature in Mueller’s investigation.
“If The FISAs reveal that we’ve planted a microphone in [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s tea kettle, he’ll get a new tea kettle,” said Davis Kris, founder of Culper Partners consulting firm.
The disclosures are essentially an attempt to push back against any report Mueller may release in the coming months about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia by painting the investigation as illegitimate, said Bob Deitz, who was National Security Agency general counsel from 1998 to 2006, then senior councillor to CIA Director Michael Hayden under former President George W. Bush.
“It’s a terrible thing to do,” Deitz told VICE News. “Trump is feeling the heat, and he’s trying to inoculate himself to whatever the Mueller report says.”
Trump and his allies have pushed a decidedly different view, arguing that the investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt launched by biased officials in the Department of Justice.
Republican Congressmen like Mark Meadows of North Carolina have echoed FOX News personalities like Sean Hannity in calling for documents related to the origins of the probe to be released.
“I have watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release them,” Trump told The Hill.TV.
Although some 30 members of Congress have seen the mostly unredacted copies of the FISA applications, according to CNN, many of the President’s biggest boosters haven’t.
Republican Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Meadows, two of the biggest proponents for Trump’s declassification, readily admitted they’re not totally sure what’s in the documents.
“We don't know, which is why we need to see them,” Jordan told CNN.
This isn’t the first time Congressional Republicans have failed to read intelligence documents before pushing for their contents to be disclosed.
In February, Congressman Devin Nunes released a much-hyped memo summarizing these same FISA applications, arguing they would reveal rank bias in the investigation.
Nunez then admitted he had not actually read the underlying FISA applications, but had sent another Congressman, Trey Gowdy, to read them for him.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives back at the White House, after touring North and South Carolina following Hurricane Florence, in Washington, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder