In the interview Trump characterized himself as a "counter-puncher" and stated that his preferred strategy of counter punching would likely lead him to use declassification as a weapon if the Democrats decided to go down the path of harassing his administration, saying: "I’m a counter-puncher and I will hit them so hard they’d never been hit like that.” According to the Post Trump further spelled out exactly what disclosure of those documents would reveal: that the FBI, the Justice Department and the Clinton campaign had conspired to set him up.The documents include Justice officials’ request to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and memos on DOJ official Bruce Ohr’s interactions with Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial dossier that alleged Trump ties with Russia.Trump initially agreed to declassify the documents, including text messages sent by former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew G. McCabe as well as Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Ohr. Trump allies believe the revelations will show favoritism toward Hillary Clinton and a plot to take down Trump.Trump then reversed course, citing the need for further review and concern of US allies.
In line with that strategy, Trump openly stated that he preferred to save the documents until they're needed, rather than risk relegating them to "yesterday's news" through premature disclosure. Regarding the timing of Trump's statements, The Post pointed out the obvious: that Trump revealed his playbook just as Democrats are set to take over House committees in January where they are poised to investigate his potential business conflicts of interests, tax returns, Russia dealings and more.
Interestingly, Trump gave a face and a name to his strategy, stating that his lawyer, Emmet Flood, had advised him to wait on declassification, viewing that as the better political move: “He didn’t want me to do it yet, because I can save it,” Trump said." Finally, Trump also suggested that the revelations that would follow on declassification would be so damaging that perhaps the country needed to be protected from the truth:
“Some things maybe the public shouldn’t see because they are so bad,” Trump said, making clear it wasn’t damaging to him, but to others. “Maybe it’s better that the public not see what’s been going on with this country.”I suspect that Trump's final rhetorical dig was meant both as a warning to Democrats but also to further whet the interest of the general public--following on his earlier characterization of the Russia Hoax: a conspiracy of the FBI, the Justice Department and the Clinton campaign to set him up.
I certainly count myself among those who would like to see full declassification sooner rather than later. On the other hand, it's difficult to gainsay either Trump's instincts and street smarts or the advice of the highly experienced Emmet Flood. However, taking everything Trump said in its political context--and he is, after all, engaged in an epic political war with both the Deep State and the political/media Establishment--it remains that the nation is owed a full accounting of what is beyond any shadow of a doubt the most serious scandal in the history of this country. The President's initial position of declassification "sooner rather than later" should remain the operative policy. And I suggest that it should happen no later than November, 2020.
UPDATE: James Howard Kunstler has a piece up at Zerohedge about The Dire Quandaries Of The Deep State. For our purposes here is the relevant passage (all emphasis in the original):
Now, an epic battle of wills is setting up as Robert Mueller’s investigation concludes its business and its primary target, the Golden Golem of Greatness, girds his loins to push back. Behind the flimsy scrim of Russia collusion accusations stands a bewildering maze of criminal mischief by a matrix of federal agencies that lost control of their own dark operation to meddle in the 2016 election.￼
The US intel community (CIA, NSA, FBI, etc), with the Department of Justice, all colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the intel agencies of the UK and Australia, to derail Mr. Trump as a stooge of Russia and, when he shocked them by getting elected, mounted a desperate campaign to cover their asses knowing he had become their boss.
The Obama White House was involved in all this, attempting to cloak itself in plausible deniability, which may be unwinding now, too. How might all this play out from here?
One big mystery is how long will Mr. Trump wait to declassify any number of secret files, memoranda, and communications that he’s been sitting on for months.
My guess is that this stuff amounts to a potent weapon against his adversaries and he will wait until Mr. Mueller releases a final report before declassifying it. Then, we’ll have a fine constitutional crisis as the two sides vie for some sort of adjudication.
And, for good measure, Kunstler asks:
... might Mr. Mueller, and others, possibly find themselves in trouble, as spearheads of a bad-faith campaign to weaponize government agencies against a sitting president?
Two quick points.
First, there is nothing to say that Trump's use of declassification must be an "all or nothing" affair--all declassified documents in one big dump. As events play out, Trump, who ultimately holds all power in this regard, can decide for himself what to declassify, how much to declassify, and when to declassify. I also think it's safe to say that Trump probably has a better idea of what's in all those Russia Hoax documents than virtually anyone--at least in an overall sense.
Second, Kunstler's question with regard to the possibility that Mueller himself could find himself in trouble is fascinating. It may sound far fetched, but those involved in the origination of the FBI investigation which was then passed on to Mueller by Rosenstein--recall, those are the exact terms of the memo authorizing the Special Counsel--could at some point be called upon to justify the opening of the investigation. And that may prove very difficult, because they would be called upon to explain what due diligence they did to back up such a momentous decision: to authorize the FBI in the first place to open a Full Counterintelligence Investigation (but which included a criminal predicate) on a presidential candidate and, in the second place, to appoint a Special Counsel to take over that investigation and target a sitting president. Yes, some may quarrel with my characterization of who the "target" was--the campaign, advisers, Trump personally?--but any cursory examination of media coverage of the Mueller "probe" should leave no doubt whatsoever that Trump is the target. The point is, no Full Investigation should have been opened without verifiable facts to serve as predication, and "Hillary wants this" is not predication for either a Preliminary or a Full Investigation. Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein, Mueller--they all should have been responsible for that determination. So far no one is talking much about the "EC" that justified all this, but Trump may want to declassify that and start a conversation on those issues.
Much of this was previously discussed in:
Crossfire Hurricane: The How and Why
A Guide To Spygate, Informants, FISA