When William Barr appeared before the House and Senate last week, Republicans were quick to get the attorney general’s agreement with claims that, should grand jury testimony be provided to Congress, it might be leaked. Congress, said Republican congressmen, could not be trusted.
To illustrate that point, Republicans in the House and Senate are pushing for the release of transcripts to the public, but not the grand jury transcripts that are attached to the report from special counsel Robert Mueller. These are transcripts of congressional hearings that were held under Republican control. Transcripts of hearings in which Republicans got to choose the witnesses, Republicans got to ask most of the questions, and Republicans controlled the hearings.
Republicans have already started this process by putting out transcripts of testimony from Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and former FBI agent Peter Strzok—House procedures be damned—but they’re not satisfied. An April 10 letter from Republicans Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows seeks high-speed declassification of 53 transcripts of hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee while that committee was under Republican leadership.
Jordan and Meadows’ goal is to find more scraps to nail to the “witch hunt” narrative by making claims about the origin of the Russia investigation and impugning the motives of the DOJ and the FBI. There’s no doubt that they will get the snippets they need to earn fresh appearances on Fox and keep the conspiracy fires burning.
However, as Cox Media’s Washington bureau points out, what Republicans get when these transcripts appear won’t exactly support what they claim. Because the transcripts already released show that the FBI and the DOJ had a consistent approach that was based on genuine concerns about just one thing—Russia’s attempt to interfere in a United States presidential election. The level of Russian interference “alarmed FBI/DOJ officials,” and so did evidence that members of the Trump campaign were “wittingly or unwittingly” working with the Russians. The story these officials told was consistent and clear: The situation was serious, and the investigation was fully justified.
When it comes to the “Steele dossier” and the idea that the whole investigation was founded on a lie, FBI officials had a pretty consistent response to that as well: They believed Steele.
For example, under questioning by Jordan that called the information from Steele “unverified and salacious,” FBI attorney Lisa Page responded that the FBI immediately addressed the allegations in the documents by assigning them to analysts who specialized in Russia, “and to the best of my knowledge, we were never able to disprove any statement in it.” In general, the FBI thought Steele was a credible source, and his information stood up to scrutiny.
Page also disputed GOP questioners on the timing of events, inconveniently setting receipt of the information from Steele after the FBI had begun preparing a FISA warrant for Trump adviser Carter Page. Testimony from all transcripts released so far showed a consistent story of how the information came to the notice of the FBI, when it was reviewed, and how it was used—a story that doesn’t match the conspiracy theories put forward by Republicans.
And when it came to the idea that Page and Strzok had engaged in actions simply because they were anti-Trump, that didn’t match the testimony. Page was specific in saying that the FBI didn’t have reason to suspect Trump personally at the time the investigation was opened, but were concerned more about members of his staff, and for a very good reason. Republicans grilled Page for two solid days, but didn’t produce anything that supports the idea that she was being anything less than professional.
Over and over, what is revealed in the transcripts already released is … exactly what the FBI said all along. There was very strong evidence that the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of the election; they were doing this in a way intended to help Trump; and there was evidence that they had reached out to the Trump campaign, which was “wittingly or unwittingly” assisting the Russian effort.
Oh, and the transcripts also revealed that the FBI really does not like Russian agents trying to infiltrate American organizations, steal American private information, and sway American elections. That seems like a concern that others should share.