Mueller Investigation

Sen. Rand Paul Is Willing to Withhold Mueller Report as Political Leverage

Politicizing transparency is not a way to help Americans understand Russia investigation.


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants to put conditions on government transparency when it comes to the full Russia investigation report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. On Twitter this morning he said he wants to tie the release of the report to additional transparency about why the FBI investigated President Donald Trump's campaign in the first place:

The "dossier" here is the now-infamous document compiled by British spy Christopher Steele, funded as Democratic opposition research on Trump, that was used in part as justification by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI to get permission to engage in secret surveillance and wiretapping of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page to determine the extent of potential ties to Russia.

Some information about the warrant used to request permission from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court has been released but not a whole lot. What little we've gotten is itself a big deal—the public sees almost nothing of the inner workings of this court, intended to give the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) oversight over surveillance of foreign interests and sometimes Americans who are connected to them, like Page.

Now that Mueller's investigation has ended with him not recommending any charges against Trump (or anybody in Trump's circle) for conspiring with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election, some Republicans are looking to switch gears and investigate those who were responsible for pushing the Trump investigation. Speaking on behalf of Trump, Paul tells Breitbart:

"[Trump] feels that it's damaging to the country, damaging to the ability to lead the country, that we basically—somebody within the Obama administration, within the DOJ and the FBI, basically concocted an investigation, trumped it up to be something that it wasn't and then we've gone through two years of the country being stalled because of this fake investigation."

So he wants to bring in people like former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to testify before Congress about how it all happened.

I'm on the record as also calling for more transparency so that Americans to see precisely what justifications were used to investigate the Trump campaign, not because I think there's some big hoax behind it, because we all have the right to know. We, as voters in a democratic republic, should most certainly know what prompted the federal government to investigate our top elected official.

That's different, though, from thinking that the investigation of Trump was itself politically motivated. I don't actually think it is—there were lots of warning flags that Russian nationals were attempting to meddle with the election and drag the Trump campaign into it. There is no intellectual disconnect with thinking that Trump is not guilty of crimes but also thinking the FBI had good reason to investigate these connections. It's not the outcome of the investigation that determines whether the investigation itself was legitimate.

What would determine whether the investigation was legitimate would be more information about those FISA Court warrants, but also the contents of Mueller's report. So it's disturbing here that Paul wants to tie transparency on one to the other, which actually escalates the politicization of the entire process and possibly makes it less likely we see either.

Paul's reasons are understandable. We don't know what's in Mueller's report yet, but it could well indicate that Mueller found all sorts of misconduct or bad behavior by Trump that didn't rise to the level of crimes but will nevertheless be damaging and quoted heavily by political opponents as we head into a presidential election. If there's evidence of misconduct in the decision to snoop on Page and others, it serves as a valuable countervailing message.

But tying the release of the Mueller report with release of information about the lead-up to the investigation is politicizing transparency itself. This is obviously an attempt at some political leverage here, but if Paul actually votes against releasing information from the Mueller report, it goes against his lengthy commitment toward open, transparent government in order to curry favor from the president. Paul should keep pushing for more information from the FISA Court, but absolutely should not stand in the way of Americans finding out what Mueller uncovered, if anything.