In the final hours of the Trump presidency, the U.S. Justice Department raised privacy concerns to thwart the release of hundreds of pages of documents that Donald Trump had declassified to expose FBI abuses during the Russia collusion probe, and the agency then defied a subsequent order to release the materials after redactions were made, according to interviews and documents.
The previously untold story of how highly anticipated declassified material never became public is contained in a memo obtained by Just the News from the National Archives that was written by then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just hours before Trump left office on noon of Jan. 20, 2021.
Meadows’ memo confirmed prior reporting by Just the News that Trump on Jan. 19, 2021 declassified a binder of hundreds of pages of sensitive FBI documents that show how the bureau used informants and FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign and misled both a federal court and Congress about flaws in the evidence they offered to get approval for the investigation.
The declassified documents included transcripts of intercepts made by the FBI of Trump aides, a declassified copy of the final FISA warrant approved by an intelligence court, and the tasking orders and debriefings of the two main confidential human sources, Christopher Steele and Stefan Halper, the bureau used to investigate whether Trump had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election.
In the end, multiple investigations found there was no such collusion and that the FBI violated rules and misled the FISA court in an effort to keep the probe going.
The documents that Trump declassified never saw the light of day, even though they were lawfully declassified by Trump and the DOJ was instructed by the president though Meadows to expeditiously release them after redacting private information as necessary.
“I am returning the bulk of the binder of declassified documents to the Department of Justice (including all that appear to have a potential to raise privacy concerns) with the instruction that the Department must expeditiously conduct a Privacy Act review under the standards that the Department of Justice would normally apply, redact material appropriately, and release the remaining material with redactions applied,” Meadows wrote in the memo.
Just the News obtained the memo after going to the Trump collection at the National Archives and asking it to look for the binder of documents Trump had declassified. The Archives said it did not possess the documents, the Justice Department did and provided a copy of Meadows’ memo.
In an interview Tuesday night on the “Just the News, Not Noise” television show, Meadows said he was dismayed that DOJ ignored a lawful instruction from a sitting president and said it was part of a larger dynamic in which the permanent federal bureaucracy repeatedly tied to undercut Trump to protect itself.
“Well, you know, the swamp is pretty deep,” Meadows said. “But when we look at this, this particular president was all about draining the swamp, you know, and when he was running, that was more of a campaign slogan. When he got there, he realized that not only was the swamp very deep, but they they would fight back. And oftentimes he said, ‘You know, I want to do this and get this out to the American people, not just the classification in terms of issues that affected him or his campaign personally, but issues that affect the American people.
“What would happen is he would have a directive, and then we would see, as people were leaving the Oval Office, you know, they were nodding compliance in the Oval Office, and the minute they go out, they said, ‘Well, we’re not going to do that’ or ‘We’re going to find all the reasons not to do it.’ So I found that very often while I served as chief of staff, but also found that as a member of Congress, that many times we would go in and the president was all in on a transparency issue, only to find that many, whether they be at a particular agency or the Pentagon, they started pushing back.”
Liz Harrington, Trump’s spokeswoman, told Just the News that DOJ’s failure to release the memos fit a pattern of political abuse inside an agency that is supposed to be above politics.
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