Former President Donald Trump wanted to declassify the files, but the FBI and CIA fought to prevent this
US intelligence agents have been searching for almost three years for a binder containing information on the so-called ‘Russiagate’ investigation, CNN reported on Friday. Former President Donald Trump wanted the folder declassified and made public, but his own officials reportedly obstructed this process, before the documents “vanished,” the network said.
The binder was compiled by House Republicans in 2018, and elements that have been made available since have shown that the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign – which morphed into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ probe – was predicated on the false premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
While around a fifth of the binder’s contents have been published in unredacted form, a small section contained “raw intelligence the US and its NATO allies collected on Russians and Russian agents,” CNN claimed, citing anonymous sources. The US intelligence agencies never revealed what was actually in this section, and according to CNN, the CIA would only allow the Republicans to view the source files in a safe in the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Nevertheless, the “intelligence community” claimed that these files proved that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” aimed at harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of election and boosting Trump’s campaign.
In the days before he left the White House, Trump ordered the binder’s contents declassified. According to CNN, this sent a wave of panic through the US intelligence agencies. CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone all rushed to Capitol Hill “to speak to congressional intelligence leaders about their deep concerns of Trump possibly releasing the material,” CNN reported.
It is unclear how the release of this material would have impacted the agencies, although the fact that Trump wanted it released to Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists suggests that it would, like the rest of the binder’s contents, have bolstered his argument that the Russiagate investigation was a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”
One copy of the binder made it to the White House shortly before Trump left office, CNN’s sources said. The president reportedly ordered final redactions to be made and instructed his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to start sending copies to reporters. A copy was delivered to conservative journalist John Solomon, CNN claimed, only for a Secret Service agent to be dispatched the following day to take it back to the White House.
The binder was not among the files found during the FBI’s raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last year, and CNN claimed that Meadows most likely has it in his possession, which Meadows’ lawyer denies. The US government is actively seeking to retrieve the binder, CNN reported, although it is unclear why the network’s sources chose to speak to the press about the search now, more than two years after it began.
CNN journalists Jeremy Herb, Katie Bo Lillis, Natasha Bertrand, Evan Perez, and Zachary Cohen all contributed to the report. All have been known to publish information leaked to the network by spies during Trump’s term in office, with Bertrand a key player in boosting false allegations against the president during the Russiagate panic.
Trump’s former director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, described CNN’s latest scoop as a “partisan attack” on Trump from within the intelligence community, while Republican pollster Rich Barris called it “a continuation of the Russia hoax.” It’s “incredible how they just keep on keeping on with the same tactics,” he added.