What are Adam Schiff, the Justice Department and the FBI trying to hide?
Kimberley A. Strassel
Rep. Adam Schiff has many talents, though few compare to his ability to function as a human barometer of Democratic panic. The greater the level of Schiff hot, pressured air, the more trouble the party knows it’s in.
Mr. Schiff’s millibars have been popping ever since the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which he is ranking Democrat, last week voted to make a classified GOP memo about FBI election year abuses available to every House member. Mr. Schiff has spit and spun and apoplectically accused his Republican colleagues of everything short of treason. The memo, he insists, is “profoundly misleading,” not to mention “distorted” and “political,” and an attack on the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He initially tried to block his colleagues from reading it. Having failed, he’s now arguing Americans can know the full story only if they see the underlying classified documents.
This is highly convenient, given the Justice Department retains those documents and is as eager to make them public as a fox is to abandon the henhouse. Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes had to threaten a contempt citation simply to get permission for his committee to gain access, and even then investigators had to leave Capitol Hill to view them, and were allowed only to take notes. Mr. Nunes has no authority to declassify them. The best he can do in his continuing transparency efforts is to summarize their contents. Only in Schiff land is sunshine suddenly a pollutant.
The Schiff pressure gauge is outmatched only by the Justice Department and the FBI, which are now mobilizing their big guns to squelch the truth. That included a Wednesday Justice Department letter to Mr. Nunes—written by Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, designed as a memo to the media, copied to its allies in Washington, and immediately leaked to the public. And the department wonders why anyone doubts the integrity of all its hardworking professionals.
Mr. Boyd gets in his cheap shots, for instance slamming Mr. Nunes for moving to release a memo based on documents that Mr. Nunes hasn’t even “seen.” He apparently thinks Rep. Trey Gowdy —the experienced former federal prosecutor Mr. Nunes asked to conduct the review of those docs—isn’t qualified to judge questions of national security. He hyperventilates that it would be “reckless” for the committee to make its memo public without first letting the Justice Department review it and “advise [the committee] of the risk of harm to national security.” Put another way, it is Mr. Boyd’s position that the Justice Department gets to provide oversight of Congress. The Constitution has it the other way around.
The bigger, swampier game here is to rally media pressure, and to mau-mau Mr. Nunes into giving the department a veto over the memo’s release. Ask Sen. Chuck Grassley how that goes. Mr. Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, recently sent a referral to the department for a criminal probe into dossier author Christopher Steele. He then in good faith asked the department its views on an unclassified portion of that referral that he wants to make public. The department invented a classified reason to block public release, and has refused to budge for weeks.
The Boyd letter is also a first step toward a bigger prize: President Trump. Under House rules, a majority of the Intelligence Committee can vote to declassify the memo. Mr. Trump then has up to five days to object to its release. If he doesn’t object, the memo goes public. If he does, a majority of the House would have to vote to override him.
The shrieks of reckless harm and national security are designed to pressure Mr. Trump to object. And wait for it: In coming days the Justice Department’s protectors will gin up a separate, desperate claim that Mr. Trump will somehow be “interfering” in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe unless he objects to the release. According to this view, it is Mr. Trump’s obligation not just to sit by while the media and the Mueller team concoct their narrative, but to block any evidence that might undercut it.
The slippery shadow in all this is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal put Mr. Rosenstein in charge of digging into the actions—right or wrong—of the Justice Department and FBI in 2016. Instead of taking up that challenge, he named an old and dear friend of the FBI as special counsel, and directed him only to look at Mr. Trump. And Mr. Rosenstein appears to have signed up as an active participant in the effort to thwart any congressional investigation of the other side of the issue.
A department head interested in truth doesn’t flout subpoenas. He doesn’t do a runaround of the Intelligence Committee and try to sucker House Speaker Paul Ryan into aiding a stonewall by asking him to intervene just before a deadline and block a contempt citation. He doesn’t sit on the knowledge of outrageous texts between FBI agents and force Congress to drag it out of him. And he doesn’t sign off on the leaks and character assassination in which his department daily engages to undermine Congress.
The good news is that these frantic reactions are a sign Americans are getting closer to the truth. So long as the truth-tellers keep moving forward.