More than two years after the House Intelligence Committee ended its investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, the transcripts of the committee’s interviews with more than four dozen witnesses could be publicly released soon.
The release of the transcripts turned into a political fight between the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee and the Trump administration’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence over the declassification of the transcripts and whether the White House could review them.
But a committee spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday that the panel was preparing to release the transcripts of the 53 closed-door witness interviews conducted in 2017 and 2018.
The decision comes after acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell wrote a letter Tuesday to committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, informing him that the interagency classification review of the final 10 transcripts had been completed. The letter was first reported by the Washington Examiner.
The committee voted unanimously in 2018 to release transcripts of the interviews it had conducted as part of the panel’s Republican-led Russia investigation, which became marred by partisan fighting over the way the investigation was conducted, and later classified memos about the FBI’s surveillance warrants for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
As part of the Russia investigation, the committee interviewed a number of top Trump officials and members of President Donald Trump’s family in 2017 and early 2018, including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks. The committee’s interview with Roger Stone led to his conviction on perjury charges for lying to the panel.
The committee also spoke to top Obama administration officials like former FBI Director James Comey, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
But the transcripts have yet to be released. Republicans have claimed Schiff was delaying their publication, and Grenell wrote that 43 of the transcripts were completed in June 2019, according to the Examiner. But the committee spokesperson charged that ODNI held up the declassification review for several of the remaining transcripts at the request of the White House.
In September 2019, the committee voted to release the 43 transcripts that had been completed. At that closed-door meeting, Schiff told the committee that in March 2019 ODNI said it intended to share some transcripts with the White House because they “implicated White House equities.” The committee told ODNI not to share with the White House and the agency did not do so.
“The White House has, in a sense, hijacked what should have been an uncontroversial straightforward review of congressional transcripts to identify and redact any classified information, and attempted to expand it into an unsolicited after the fact review for information purportedly protected by executive privilege,” Schiff said, according to a transcript of the committee meeting.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the panel, found some rare agreement with Schiff, saying the transcripts were delayed due to “ODNI dragging its feet.”
But the release never happened following the vote, as the panel’s attention quickly turned toward Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry.
Now it appears all 53 transcripts will be released in one batch.
“The Committee received a letter yesterday from ODNI stating that ‘as of today, the interagency review of the remaining ten transcripts has been completed,’ and providing new redactions. 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,” the committee spokesperson said.
The committee said it was now going to review the redactions before the transcripts would be released, taking a swipe at Grenell for an “overtly political role” in the process.
“We are now reviewing the proposed redactions from ODNI based on classification, law enforcement sensitivity or items ODNI requests be for official use only,” the spokesperson said. “Given the overtly political role now played by the acting DNI, including the leak of his letter, this committee and the public can have little confidence that his determinations are made on the merits. This process had already taken far too long, most notably because the ODNI improperly held up the declassification review and release of several transcripts at the request of the White House.”
The Republican report from the panel’s Russia investigation in 2018 concluded Russia had interfered but found no evidence of collusion between members of Trump’s team and Russian officials. Democrats, however, argued that the committee had failed to take steps like subpoenaing the witnesses for records or refusing to answer the panel’s questions.
A year later, then-special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation into Russian election interference, which did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia but did find evidence that people inside and associated with the Trump campaign had welcomed and encouraged Russian activity that they thought could help their candidate win.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, which began in 2017, is at last nearing an end. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said Tuesday that the committee’s final chapter of its report on Russian interference had been written, and he asked Director of National Intelligence nominee Rep. John Ratcliffe to expedite the declassification process for that document to be released publicly.