Thursday evening, May 23, the White House issued a memo to announce that President Trump had granted authority to Attorney General William Barr to declassify and release information showing the FBI’s spying activities during the 2016 presidential election.
The White House memo states that the president has “directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation into surveillance activities” and has “delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation.”
During recent months, the Justice Department has been reviewing the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe, which began soon after Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016. Evidence surfaced that the FBI under the Obama administration was using electronic surveillance to spy on the Trump campaign. Inspector General of the Justice Department Michael E. Horowitz led that investigation.
Earlier this month, the attorney general also announced the appointment of U.S. Attorney John Durham from Connecticut, who would investigate whether the intelligence activities to investigate Trump were “lawful and appropriate.” The appointment of a federal prosecutor such as Durham would normally suggest that the Justice Department is prepared to take legal action.
Part of the controversy surrounds former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who authored the original “Trump dossier” while being paid by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Steele also served as a confidential informant for the FBI in order to obtain the first of several Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants used to place the Trump campaign under surveillance.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-N.C.) stated in an interview that a classified document within the FBI shows that the Bureau knew Steele’s dossier was politically motivated and that it lacked independent corroboration.
“The bottom line is that the dossier has never been independently confirmed. It was used to get a warrant [by the FBI]. They knew the author of the dossier was on the Democrat Party payroll. There’s really no verification, other than media reports that were generated by reporters that received the dossier.”
While Democrats spying on the Trump campaign during the presidential election looks highly suspicious, it has been unclear what the spying sought to achieve. Some speculate that the goal was to uncover “dirt” on the Trump campaign for use during the election. Others suggest that spying on Trump was part of a broader strategy that sought to frame the president for colluding with Russian agents in the event that he won the election. Colluding with a foreign enemy like Russia would give Congress grounds to pursue impeachment of the president after he took office.
With Thursday’s White House announcement, it appears that important details may soon come to light.
“Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions,” the White House memo states.