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What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a document. Now the Republicans want the same.
Yesterday, Ron DeSantis, the chair of the House Oversight subcommittee on National Security, sent a letter to Paul Ryan requesting that Ryan direct the declassification and release of all documents associated with the Trump dossier. Ryan, as House Speaker, is an ex officio member of every House committee, and Rule X, which DeSantis references, allows the Speaker and the majority of any committee to declassify any and all documents.
What is going on here? DeSantis is leaving Congress to run for Florida governor. He’s a member of the Freedom Caucus. So one could hypothesize that he’s tossing Paul Ryan a stinkbomb on his way out. He could, conceivably, know that Ryan can’t declassify the documents because they are very sensitive but, at the same time, weaken Ryan with the GOP base by making it seem like he won’t.
But it could be related to this:
One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Trump dossier is the question of whether the FBI used unverified material from the dossier — a Clinton campaign opposition research product — to apply for permission to spy on Americans. Investigators from both House and Senate have long wanted to see any FISA applications (that is, spying requests filed with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court) that dealt with the Trump-Russia affair.
Now, they have seen them.
Sources on both Capitol Hill and in the executive branch have confirmed that representatives of four committees — the House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee — have had the opportunity to examine FISA documents in a secure room at the Justice Department. They were not allowed to take the documents out of the room or to copy them, but they could make notes. They thus know the answer to the was-the-dossier-used-for-spying question.
So what is the answer? For the moment, it’s classified. (Just for the record: I don’t know it.) There might be articles and commentary written on the assumption that the FBI did or did not use the dossier material with the FISA court, but right now it appears the information has not leaked, and those articles and commentary are based on assumptions rather than hard information.
The challenge for House and Senate investigators is to get the information to the public. One option is to ask the executive branch to declassify it. The problem is that simply getting the information out of the FBI and Justice Department has been like pulling teeth. Another option is to have the president himself declassify it. The problem is that it is probably a good idea for President Trump to stay out of a congressional investigative process that focuses on his campaign. Yet another option is for Congress to exercise its little-known authority to declassify. The problem is that it is a long and complicated process.
I’ve been certain for some time that the Trump dossier was the core document to get FISA warrants on Carter Page and Paul Manafort. There might have been other things around the edges–no, I do not believe the Papadopoulos story is plausible because second-hand stories aren’t sufficient for even the FISA Court–there had to be something significant. Particularly in the case of Carter Page who had one FISA warrant expire in June 2016 and got a new one around September. One has to wonder exactly what happened to cause a new warrant to be issued shortly after he was essentially cleared in a counterintelligence investigation if it didn’t involve the Trump dossier.
If the dossier was used to obtain a FISA warrant, that could only have happened if someone in the FBI represented Steele’s secondhand allegations as substantiated. That is not a trivial matter. Neither is it trivial for an administration to order the electronic surveillance of members of a presidential candidate’s campaign and transition team.
This is one of those decisions that should be a no-brainer.