A frantic declassification blitz of Russiagate documents played out in the West Wing up until the final minutes of the Trump administration, according to a new book.
In his new book The Chief's Chief, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offers a behind-the-scenes look at his efforts to personally ensure "sources and methods" were protected in adhering to President Donald Trump's push for declassification of documents related to the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane investigation on the eve of Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.
Meadows describes how a frustratingly slow process to get these records declassified, despite previous orders from the commander in chief to get relevant notes, memos, and emails, was met with hurdles right up until the very last minutes of "Trump Time," as he called it.
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"The DOJ or the FBI would consistently push back when he asked for the remaining documents to be declassified," Meadows wrote. "In these final weeks, when the President's request was once again ignored, he demanded that these documents be brought to the White House and I personally went through every page, to make sure that the President's declassification would not inadvertently disclose sources and methods. DOJ had finally allowed key documents to be declassified and yet minutes before Joe Biden would be sworn in, they were trying to redact information they had just provided."
There remains an air of mystery about the documents covered by Trump's eleventh-hour declassification memo — only a smattering appears to have been revealed in scattered media reporting. The memo spoke of a binder of materials related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation that Trump said the Justice Department provided to the White House at his request on Dec. 30, 2020.
"I hereby declassify the remaining materials in the binder. This is my final determination under the declassification review and I have directed the Attorney General to implement the redactions proposed in the FBI’s January 17 submission and return to the White House an appropriately redacted copy," Trump said.
There were prior FISA-related instructions, which came in the form of tweets and a White House press release, that a judge ruled in May 2020 did not constitute formal declassification orders. Trump tweeted again about authorizing the "total Declassification" of Russiagate documents in October 2020, after which the Department of Justice argued there was no order and Meadows submitted a sworn declaration in which he said Trump indicated to him that his statements on Twitter were not "self-executing declassification orders." A judge then accepted the White House statement as rescinding Trump's tweets.
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Kash Patel, a top Pentagon official at the end of the Trump era who also served as a top investigator for the House Intelligence Committee, said during an interview on Fox Business on Jan. 20 that "99%" transparency had been achieved. Patel also claims there was a declassification wish list that was sent to the White House by members of Congress. He told RealClearInvestigations that the list included a classified House Intelligence Committee report that criticized the analytic tradecraft in the Obama administration's 2017 intelligence community assessment’s conclusions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivations in the interference campaign leading to the 2016 election.
This is all being examined by special counsel John Durham, who to this day is investigating the origins and conduct of the Russia inquiry that Republicans have long criticized as being a drawn-out campaign to drag the 45th president. John Ratcliffe, who was Trump's final director of national intelligence, says he delivered roughly 1,000 pages of material to Durham that he recently predicted would support criminal charges.
Durham's investigation has resulted in multiple people being charged and one guilty plea so far. Beyond prosecutions, the special counsel is anticipated to release a report at the conclusion of his yearslong investigation.
Meadows mentions how Trump would often gripe about Durham's progress and said the West Wing "had no visibility into this investigation being conducted by the Department of Justice and could only wait, along with the rest of America, for the verdict."
After the Biden administration took over, some Republicans, including the House Intelligence Committee's Rep. Devin Nunes, expressed doubt that the Justice Department would release a report from Durham even though a DOJ official said the agency "agrees" with an order by former Attorney General William Barr regarding transparency for the review when he made Durham, then the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, a special counsel — a designation that provided him extra protection to continue his work following a change in administrations.
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Meadows says he believes there is no good reason for Durham's report to get buried.
"I am confident that President Trump's order will provide much needed clarity and remove any excuse for the final Durham report to remain in a classified vault," he wrote in his book.