It is laughable that some leaders cited “transparency” to justify the release Friday of a controversial memo prepared by the House Intelligence Committee on how surveillance warrants were obtained in the FBI’s investigation into connections between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
“I’ve always believed in the public’s right to know,” Vice President Mike Pence said in arguing for the memo’s release.
Said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “We have said all along, from day one, that we want full transparency in this process.”
Added House Speaker Paul Ryan, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. What we want is all this information to come out so that transparency can reign supreme.”
If only their actions matched their rhetoric. Then, all the House Intelligence Committee documents would be declassified and shared with the public.
But releasing a summary of selectively chosen classified information prepared solely by one partisan group with a specific partisan agenda isn’t full transparency. Not even close. At best, it’s political theater. At worst, it’s the kind of behavior more closely aligned with authoritarian dictatorships than free and open democracies.
The memo, which the FBI said was inaccurate and lacked context, alleges that current and former FBI and Justice Department leaders signed off on a surveillance warrant to monitor communications of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The document asserts that the warrant wrongly relied on opposition research on Trump by Christopher Steele, who was paid in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The memo makes other connections between officials involved in helping launch the Russia probe and those opposed to Trump’s election. For example, the memo notes that the wife of former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr worked for Fusion GPS which helped cultivate opposition research on Trump. The memo notes that FBI agent Pete Strzok was responsible for counterintelligence information on Trump campaign associate George Papadopoulos. Strzok and his mistress, FBI attorney Lisa Page exchanged anti-Trump text messages that led to Strzok being reassigned to the FBI’s human resources office.
Trump, who made the ultimate decision to declassify the memo so that it could be released, seized on the memo, arguing that it brings into question the entire Russian investigation.
On Friday, the president tweeted, “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans — something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!”
Are there concerning allegations in the memo? Absolutely. Should they be investigated? Sure. But, as the president’s tweet underscores, the only thing transparent about Friday’s memo was its objective — to discredit Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Full transparency is a pretty high standard that few in government live up to. Suffice to say, the release of Friday’s memo doesn’t come close to qualifying.