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Analysis: Schiff’s Radical Transparency Shift

  • Rep. Adam Schiff is calling for the declassification and release of a transcript of phone calls between Michael Flynn and former Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak. 
  • “We need to ensure a transparent and complete public record free of political manipulation,” wrote Schiff. 
  • The request marks a dramatic shift for the California Democrat. Throughout the Trump-Russia probe, Schiff led the charge to oppose the release of FBI documents regarding the Steele dossier and FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Friday called for transparency in the release of a transcript of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone calls in late December 2016 with a Russian ambassador.

“We need to ensure a transparent and complete public record free of political manipulation,” Schiff wrote in a letter to Richard Grenell, the acting director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

In making the request, Schiff follows on the heels of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who first called for the release of the transcript and other Flynn-related materials in February 2017 and again in May 2018.

But Schiff’s call for transparency marks a shift in tone for the California Democrat, who has resisted the release of classified documents related to other aspects of the FBI’s investigation and surveillance of the Trump campaign.

Many of those documents, once released, have shown that the FBI mishandled intelligence in its investigation of the Trump campaign. The documents also undermined the Steele dossier, which Schiff touted as evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during a March 20, 2017, congressional hearing.

Schiff led the charge throughout 2018 to oppose the release of FBI and Justice Department documents related to the dossier, which the FBI used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders against Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Schiff opposed a GOP effort to release information about the FBI’s handling of the dossier, which was authored by former British spy Christopher Steele. He asserted in interviews on CNN and MSNBC that the information would lead to a national security crisis, and undermine the FBI’s relationships with foreign governments and confidential sources.

In an interview with CNN on Jan. 20, 2018, Schiff asserted that documents on those topics should not be released because the American public would not understand their significance.

“Why not allow peel to look at it and let Americans make the decision for themselves about whether it’s useful information or not?” CNN host Ana Cabrera asked Schiff.

“Well, because the American people, unfortunately, don’t have the underlying materials and therefore they can’t see how distorted and misleading this document is,” Schiff said.

He said that the Republican push to release the dossier-related documents was “just designed to attack the FBI and Bob Mueller to circle the wagons for the White House.”

Schiff reiterated those comments in a Feb. 4, 2018 interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow regarding the pending release of a Republican memo laying out problems with the FBI’s investigation.

“The real damage they have done is they have damaged the relationship between our committee and the intelligence community in the future. They are going to be wary about sharing information because they won’t trust us to be responsible stewards of it,” Schiff said of Republicans.

Schiff compared the release of information about FBI sources — in that case, Steele — to burning an FBI source used in terrorism investigations.

“If you have a neighbor next door who is buying a lot of fertilizer and it seems odd because they don’t have a yard, are you going to think twice because if they get a search warrant for your neighbor and something is politicized, the political winds change and there’s an investigation, your identity is going to be revealed,” Schiff said.

On Sept. 17, 2018, Schiff said on MSNBC that he opposed President Donald Trump’s order to declassify a batch of documents related to the Steele dossier and FBI’s probe. Trump sought declassification of parts of the Carter Page FISA applications and notes from FBI interviews with a DOJ official who met with Steele.

Schiff urged the FBI and Justice Department to refuse to release the documents.

“They ought to fearlessly defend their sources. Otherwise, it will not only compromise them but other people will be unwilling to cooperate with our intelligence agencies because they will feel they won’t be protected,” said Schiff.

“You have to say no to this president because otherwise he will continue to ask for more and more and more, and the precedent and the danger it will set will be enormously destructive.”

The release of the information has not led to any major national security crisis. It has instead raised questions regarding the credibility of Steele, a former British spy who was an FBI informant since 2013.

A Justice Department inspector general’s (IG) report released on Dec. 9 said that the FBI made a series of “significant” errors and omissions related to the Steele dossier and its investigation of the Trump campaign. The IG said that FBI investigators withheld information that undercut the bureau’s theory that Page and others on the Trump campaign conspired with Russia.

Steele’s main source of information for the dossier told the FBI in early 2017 that the ex-spy misrepresented allegations in the salacious document. The IG report also said that the FBI had evidence that Russian intelligence operatives fed disinformation to Steele.

On Friday, Schiff asked Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, to declassify a transcript of Flynn’s Dec. 29, 2016 phone call with Sergey Kislyak.

Earlier this month, Grenell declassified a list of Obama administration officials who submitted requests for intelligence reports that identified Flynn during the presidential transition period.

Schiff is far from the first lawmaker to call for the release of the transcript.

On Feb. 15, 2017, Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein called on the FBI and Justice Department to hand over the document. The agencies refused to do so. Grassley renewed the request in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 11, 2018.

The agencies have resisted previous calls to declassify and release other Trump-Russia documents. Schiff has often defended the FBI and DOJ’s position.

Grenell undercut Schiff’s argument, saying on Twitter Friday that he is in the process of declassifying any Flynn-related materials controlled by ODNI. It is unclear if Grenell has control over the Flynn-Kislyak transcript since it is reportedly a product of FBI surveillance of the Russian diplomat.

Schiff’s office did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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