During a closed-door meeting on September 28th, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release 53 transcripts from its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
Thousands of pages of documents recording critical conversations with President Trump’s closest associates including his son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former political advisers Steve Bannon and Corey Lewandowski will soon meet the public eye.
The released materials contain discussions on a crucial meeting occurring at Trump Tower in June 2016 where Trump Jr. and Kushner connected with a Russian lawyer named Nataliya Veselnitskaya.
The transcripts also cover interviews with top officials from both the current and former President Barack Obama’s administrations— Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, among others.
The public should not expect to get a hold of them immediately. The documents will first be sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for declassification and the redaction of passages that might put national security at risk.
Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif) feels strongly that the release should take place before the looming midterm elections.
“They need to be published, I think before the election … put out for the American people to review, so that they can see the work that we did and they can see all of the people that were interviewed by us and their answers to those questions,” said Nunes on Fox News.
As of this point, however, the timing of the release remains unclear.
Heated arguments between the Republicans and the Democrats regarding details of the release showed the same kind of partisan animus that’s been haunting Russian probe for more than a year.
While the Democrats on the committee were willing to publicize all the transcripts the Republicans wanted to put forward, the latter rejected the former’s suggestion to release six additional transcripts. Withheld documents include testimonies from key players Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D, Fla.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R, Calif.).
“There was no interest (from Republicans) in the public seeing anything that they thought might be damaging to the president,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif), the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters after the meeting.
“We didn’t oppose a partial release, but we think nonetheless that it is a disservice to the public,” Schiff said. “Clearly, they are concerned with the public seeing certain transcripts.
For Schiff, the release “is not transparency, only a further subterfuge.”
The Republicans also managed to block the Democrats’ effort to push forward the uncensored release of unclassified transcripts. The Democrats’ proposal to immediately send all materials to special counsel Robert Mueller was also rejected on party-line votes.
The Republicans’ unwillingness to cooperate, according to Schiff, points to a real concern that some witnesses may have committed perjury.
“We have suspicions that people testified before our committee falsely and committed perjury, and the special counsel is in the best position to determine on the basis of the additional information he has who might have perjured themselves.”
In response to Schiff’s criticisms, Jack Langer, Nunes’s spokesperson attacked back: “it’s amusing to see the Democrats continuing to promote their never-ending chain of absurd conspiracy theories.”
Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Tex) explained that there was no set date of release because “we’re not responsible for releasing classified information—that’s for the executive branch to decide.” And if Mueller wants the documents, he can ask for them himself. “He’s a big boy,” Conaway said.
As of now, Trump denied all charges of collusion. Russian President Vladimir Putin also denied any Russian interference in the 2016 election although he admitted that he hoped for Trump’s victory.
Republicans on the committee wrapped up their interviews in March and found no evidence of collusion. Democrats discredited the investigation due to its failure to call important witnesses. They have threatened to reopen the case if they take control of the House in November.
Featured Image via AP/J. Scott Applewhite