The nation’s outgoing spy chief, Richard Grenell, declared “transparency is a must” as he promised to declassify those conversations between retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the possession of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence soon to be replaced by Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas after he was confirmed to post this week on Thursday, pushed back against criticism from Democrats and in the midst of a declassification spree, which has resulted in a series of revelations in recent weeks. Grenell stressed that he has started the declassification process only for those Flynn-Kislyak calls which are in possession of the top spy agency, which is not all of them, since they didn’t originate with ODNI.
Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Noah Shachtman tweeted out a podcast link, claiming that Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California “really lets loose here, saying he no longer trusts ODNI and FBI to deliver the truth about Russian interference in 2020.” Swalwell then replied with a “slight correction on your tweet: I trust FBI & Director Wray. I don’t trust ODNI Directors Richard Grenell or Rep. Ratcliffe. They’re the ones with the shovels burying evidence to protect Donald Trump.” That’s when Grenell jumped in.
“I’m letting the public see more info. You are the one who worked to hide the information you didn’t like. You listened to multiple people in classified hearings say they had no evidence and yet go on TV and say the opposite,” Grenell tweeted on Friday. “Transparency is now a must!”
That was a reference to Grenell pressuring Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to release dozens of witness transcripts from the panel’s investigation on Russian election interference, which showed top Obama national security officials saying they did not have direct evidence of Trump-Russia collusion. Grenell also helped declassify dozens of footnotes from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report on the FBI’s Russia investigations, which revealed the bureau was aware that British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s unverified anti-Trump dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation and used it anyway.
Last week, Grenell declassified a National Security Agency document containing a list of Obama administration officials, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who were the authorized recipients of information in response to “unmasking” requests that revealed Flynn’s identity in surveillance intercepts. Before that, he expressed his concerns about unmasking in a directive obtained by the Washington Examiner to the heads of U.S. spy agencies titled “Protecting the Privacy and Civil Liberties of U.S. Persons.”
In response to Grenell’s tweet, Swalwell claimed, “You never once came to brief the Intel Committee (First DNI Director who failed to do so). If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you release Flynn’s call with Russia?” He included a hashtag, #ShowUsTheTape.
Grenell said last week that the intelligence community’s top counterintelligence official, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina, would carry out all election security intelligence briefings to 2020 candidates and campaigns instead of the FBI or Department of Homeland Security. Evanina, a widely respected former FBI special agent, briefed Congress earlier this year. He said the intelligence community had not concluded Russia is backing any particular 2020 candidate and warned about interference by multiple countries, noting that election interference “is not a Russia-only problem.”
“Those are coming,” Grenell replied in reference to Swalwell’s call for the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts to be released. “It’s very important for the public to see ALL of them. For too long the public has been misled. Just compare your committee’s transcripts to your public statements!” His tweet was accompanied by a “#troubling” hashtag.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused Grenell of “selective declassification” for political reasons and asked Grenell on Wednesday for the disclosure of the underlying intelligence reports in which Obama administration officials unmasked Flynn. Schiff echoed that demand on Friday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina sent a letter to Grenell on Tuesday, asking him to declassify any unmasking requests made between Trump’s November 2016 victory and his January 2017 inauguration that revealed the identity of anyone in Trump’s orbit appearing in foreign intercepts. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told Grenell they were expanding the scope of their “unmasking” investigation requests to include information as early as January 2016.
It was reported earlier this week that Flynn’s name was likely not masked in the FBI reports put together related to his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period.
Earlier Friday, the Federalist’s Mollie Hemmingway tweeted that “DNI in process of declassifying the Kislyak-Flynn transcripts and/or summaries that are under DNI jurisdiction, per senior admin official. Sen. Warner and others have called on DNI to do this.” She also said that “not all transcripts are under DNI jurisdiction” and that the Flynn-Kislyak phone call that was leaked to the Washington Post in early 2017 was not distributed to the rest of the intelligence community outside of the FBI.
“True. The IC doesn’t have all the transcripts/summaries… It wasn’t our product,” Grenell tweeted. “It’s odd that Adam Schiff doesn’t know this. But I already started the declassification for the few we received. They should be released in full, though. The public deserves to see it.”
Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, said on Wednesday she would “love to see” the release of the transcripts.