Dozens of Russia probe transcripts poised for release after end of intel review
A standoff between the White House and Congress is finally over.
The intelligence community has completed a long-delayed review of transcripts connected to the House Republican-led investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a development that could reignite the furor over the long-dormant probe.
Ric Grenell, President Donald Trump's acting director of national intelligence, informed lawmakers this week in newly disclosed correspondence that the White House has dropped its demand to review aspects of the testimony, which had led to a yearlong standoff with Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who took control of the committee last year.
The move paves the way for as many as 53 transcripts from that investigation to be released publicly, more than two years after the probe concluded.
“After more than a year of unnecessary delay, the ODNI has finally concluded its protracted classification review of the Committee’s transcripts, and it also appears the White House has now abandoned its improper insistence on reviewing key transcripts, which the Committee appropriately rejected," a House Intelligence Committee spokesman said in a statement.
The spokesman indicated that the panel would be reviewing the intelligence community’s proposed redactions: “Our review of ODNI’s newly proposed redactions will be as expeditious as possible given the constraints of the pandemic, and we look forward to releasing these transcripts, which relate to misconduct by the Trump campaign and the president himself.” Aides to Grenell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The release of the transcripts themselves has been a saga. In September 2018, the GOP-led intelligence committee voted to send them to the intelligence community for a classification review and then-Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) suggested they could be released in time for the midterm elections. But the panel didn't transmit the transcripts to the DNI's office until November, nine months after the conclusion of an investigation riven by partisan sniping and distrust.
In March 2019, the ODNI informed lawmakers that the White House intended to review the transcripts — a prospect that Schiff rejected as an inappropriate incursion on the committee's request for a classification review. Intel officials agreed not to share the transcripts with the White House, but the episode led to a lengthy standoff. In June, intelligence officials proposed redactions for 43 of the 53 transcripts but indicated the White House wanted access to the remaining 10.
By September, as the House was gearing up for impeachment hearings against Trump, Schiff convened the committee for a vote to release the 43 vetted transcripts as well as two of the 10 stalled transcripts that were determined to include no classified information. The panel unanimously supported his proposal. Nunes, at the time, dinged the DNI's office for foot-dragging, and Schiff said the White House had "hijacked" the process. He indicated he intended to quickly release the vetted transcripts.
But as the impeachment process raged, the transcript matter went on the back burner, where it remained until last week, when Trump allies began demanding that Schiff produce them publicly. As the calls from conservatives mounted, Grenell sent his letter indicating that the issue with the 10 disputed transcripts had been resolved and there are no remaining impediments to releasing them.
It's unclear how quickly the panel can review ODNI's redactions, but the transcripts are expected to reach thousands of pages and reopen matters related to the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia — and the insistence of Trump and his allies that the entire matter was a "hoax" meant to derail his presidency.