WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump ordered the release of documents Monday involving FBI and Justice Department officials he claims targeted him during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Among those officials: ex-FBI Director James Comey, whose firing by Trump in 2017 triggered the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and an obstruction of justice investigation involving the Russia case.
The document flap revolves around Trump's claims that the FBI and the Justice Department tried to frame him, saying he colluded with Russians who tried to influence the 2016 election. Trump often refers to Mueller's probe as a "witch hunt" or a "hoax."
Members of the FBI, the Justice Department, and U.S. intelligence agencies had objected to declassifying the documents, noting that the Russia investigation is ongoing.
Democrats, meanwhile, have accused Trump of seeking to obstruct the ongoing investigation of Russian efforts to influence the election in his favor.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, accused Trump of "a clear abuse of power" via a "selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative."
Trump allies in Congress, also claiming that the Justice Department and FBI unfairly tried to link then-candidate Trump to the Russians, have sought the release of the documents for months, and Trump has been receptive to the idea.
In announcing Trump's declassification order, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders cited "the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency."
The president ordered the Department of Justice and director of National Intelligence to declassify documents related to a search warrant on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, as well as interviews conducted by DOJ official Bruce Ohr.
In addition, Trump has ordered the Department of Justice, including the FBI, to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation from five people: Comey, Ohr and former FBI officials Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
In previewing his declassification order, Trump tweeted Monday: "Immediately after Comey’s firing Peter Strzok texted to his lover, Lisa Page 'We need to Open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy (McCabe, also fired) is acting. Page answered, “We need to lock in (redacted). In a formal chargeable way. Soon.' Wow, a conspiracy caught?"
Schiff and other Democrats have accused Trump of distorting the meaning of previous texts involving Strzok and Page.
It is not known when the documents might be released. The FBI declined to comment.
Congressional Republicans allied with Trump have long sought publication of the documents, and applauded Trump's decision.
"It's time to get the full truth on the table so the American people can decide for themselves on what happened at the highest levels of their FBI and Justice Department," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina.
Democrats said Trump wants to muddy up Mueller's investigation by attacking federal law enforcement officials.
"I have been previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider their release a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods," Schiff said. "This is evidently of no consequence to a President who cares about nothing about the country and everything about his narrow self-interest."