Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley on Congressman Ratcliffe’s Confirmation and the Virtues of Oversight

May 21, 2020
Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On Congressman Ratcliffe’s Confirmation and the Virtues of Oversight
Thursday, May 21, 2020
 
Today, I’d like to discuss Congressman Ratcliffe’s confirmation as Director of National Intelligence.
 
I want to congratulate the congressman on a job well done.
 
With this position comes great responsibility.
 
Congressman Ratcliffe will have tremendous power to do good and to be transparent.
 
I want to remind him as I have reminded many heads of departments before: transparency brings accountability and the public’s business ought to be public.
 
By its very nature, the Intelligence Community is a secretive bunch.
 
They often operate in the shadows and have to in order to do the job we have asked them to do.
 
However, that doesn’t mean when Congress asks them questions they have license to withhold information.
 
When Congress comes knocking, the Intelligence Community must answer.
 
After all, the Intelligence Community doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution.
 
The Intelligence Community is a creation of Congress. Congress isn’t a creation of the Intelligence Community.
 
You answer to us, and to the people.
 
Acting Director Grenell understood that. He is perhaps one of the most transparent government officials in my time serving the great people of Iowa.
 
He is a breath of fresh air.
 
Mr. Ratcliffe has some big shoes to fill, that’s for sure. Luckily, he has Acting Director Grenell’s example to guide him.
 
Mr. Grenell’s short time as Acting Director has resulted in a number of very important items being declassified.
 
For example, he and Attorney General Barr declassified dozens of footnotes from the Justice Department Inspector General’s report that show how the DOJ and FBI mishandled the Russia investigation.
 
Just to give some highlights, those footnotes show that Russian Intelligence was aware of Steele’s anti-Trump research in early July 2016 before the FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane.
 
That means the Russians knew they could possibly use the dossier as the vehicle to plant disinformation and sow chaos to undermine our government.
 
The FBI had an open counterintelligence case on Steele’s key source but failed to tell the FISA court.
 
The FBI had intelligence that some of Steele’s sources had connections to Russian intelligence.
 
Steele had sources connected to the Russian presidential administration and some supported Clinton, not Trump.
 
The Crossfire Hurricane team was aware in late January 2017 that Russian Intelligence may have targeted Orbis, Steele’s company.
 
Steele’s primary sub-source viewed his/her contacts not as a network of sources but rather as friends that discussed current events.
 
Two intelligence reports, one from January 12, 2017, and the other from February 27, 2017, indicated that information contained within the dossier was the product of Russian disinformation.
 
This information was withheld from the FISA court and the FBI continued to use the dossier to justify surveillance on Carter Page.
 
I also want to note a very interesting fact about the January 12, 2017 date.
 
Not only did the FBI learn that the dossier, their “central and essential” document, was most likely filled with Russian disinformation, and then fail to inform the FISA court about it, on that very same day, the FBI got a FISA renewal on Page.
 
And it was renewed two more times.
 
My fellow Americans, what the FBI did is a complete travesty. And you have to ask yourself, why did they do it?
 
Well, the text messages from Strzok and Page that I made public help us to better understand that.
 
Their animus towards Trump helps to explain why FBI employees cut corners and didn’t follow regular protocol in running their inquiry.
 
As I’ve mentioned before, Strzok’s text to Page about how he will “stop” Trump from becoming president is very telling.
 
But, thanks to Acting Director Grenell and Attorney General Barr, these texts can now be read in greater context.
 
For example, on August 15, 2016, Strzok texts Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office [referring to Andrew McCabe] – that there’s no way Trump gets elected – but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
 
The next day, on August 16, 2016, the FBI opened the Flynn probe, codenamed Crossfire Razor.
 
On August 17, 2016, the FBI used a briefing for Trump, who was now the Republican nominee, and Flynn to surveil Flynn for his “mannerisms” and whether he mentioned anything about Russia.
 
Let’s also not forget about the texts from November 2016 that Senator Johnson and I made public.
 
Those texts between Strzok and Page show that the FBI used a November 2016 briefing for presidential transition staff as a counterintelligence operation.
 
For example, Strzok told Page, “He can assess if there are any new questions or different demeanor. If Katie’s husband is there, he can see if there are people we can develop for potential relationships.”
 
That’s an astounding finding.
 
Imagine if that had been done to the Democrat nominee. You wouldn’t hear the end of it. In fact, they’d probably call for another special counsel.
 
Yet, because it’s Trump and Flynn, the media has gone largely quiet.
 
On January 4, 2017, the FBI wrote a closing memorandum on Flynn that said the Intelligence Community could find no derogatory information on him.
 
But, on the very same day the FBI was ready to close the Flynn case, Strzok asked another FBI agent, “Hey if you haven’t closed Razor don’t do it yet.”
 
The case was still open at that moment and Strzok asked that it be kept open “for now.”
 
Strzok then messaged Lisa Page saying that Razor still happened to be open because of some oversight and said, “Yeah, our utter incompetence actually helps us. 20 percent of the time…”
 
Then, the next day on January 5, 2017, President Obama met with Director Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Vice President Biden and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
 
In that meeting they briefed Obama on the Russia investigation.
 
On January 5, 2017, the very same day as the Oval Office briefing with Obama and Biden, an Obama administration official leaked the existence of the December 29, 2016, Flynn call with the Russian ambassador.
 
However, that leak hadn’t been publicly reported yet.
 
Also on January 5, Obama’s Chief of Staff requested to unmask Flynn.
 
According to Deputy Attorney General Yates, when she met with Obama on that day, he already knew about Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador. She was surprised that Obama knew about it already.
 
On January 11, 2017, UN Ambassador Samantha Power requested to unmask Flynn. She requested this be done seven times after the election. She ought to explain why she did that.
 
Then on January 12, 2017, Vice President Biden requested to unmask Flynn.
 
That same day, the existence of Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador was leaked and ran in the Washington Post.
 
Then, in February 2017, the alleged contents of the call were leaked.
 
Those are criminal leaks. These are some of the many criminal leaks that occurred during the transition period and the beginning of the Trump administration which were obviously designed to undermine it.
 
I assume U.S. Attorney Durham is investigating all of those leaks.
 
Now, with respect to the unmasking, what I’d like to know is why did so many Obama administration officials that were not within the Intelligence field request to unmask Flynn?
 
The sheer volume of unmasking and the timing causes me to question whether it was politically motivated.
 
Based on the facts that we now have, it appears that the Obama administration’s top law enforcement agency and Intelligence Community engaged in a coordinated effort to cut the legs from under the Trump administration before they could even get their footing.
 
And you know what?
 
The American people have had to suffer through years of criminal leaks, innuendo, false news reports and flat out lies all designed to destroy the administration.
 
The Russia investigation should have closed shop early on, especially when the people they surveilled from the Trump campaign offered exculpatory evidence.
 
Evidence which showed that the Trump campaign wasn’t involved in the DNC hack and didn’t have the Russian connections the FBI thought they had.
 
By the way, that evidence was hidden from the FISA court by the FBI.
 
Obama has said that DOJ and FBI must be kept independent of White House interference.
 
Yet, based on the information we have at this point, it appears that he and Biden were much more involved in aspects of the Russia investigation than they’d like us to believe.
 
Ultimately, Obama and Biden will have to answer for what they knew and when they knew it.
 
That shouldn’t be a problem for the so-called most transparent administration in history, as they used to tell us all the time.
 
Simply said, heads need to roll over this. If they don’t, the Intelligence Community, DOJ and FBI may never get the people’s trust again.
 
So, where do we go from here?
 
On May 12, 2020, I wrote a letter to Acting Director Grenell that requested a broad range of information relating to unmasking by the Obama administration. On May 19, I expanded that request with Senator Johnson.
 
Prior to that, I wrote to the Justice Department and Mr. Grenell requesting the transcript of Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador and that Susan Rice’s infamous January 20, 2017, email to herself be declassified, among other things.
 
That email has now been declassified and casts further doubt on the FBI’s actions.
 
I’ve also requested, along with Senator Johnson, underlying intelligence reports from the Russia investigation.
 
Moreover, reports suggest that the Obama administration unmasked a lot more U.S. persons related to the Trump campaign than just Flynn.
 
The responsibility to respond to these requests will now fall to Congressman Ratcliffe.
 
So, let’s see it all. The American public has waited long enough.
 
And finally, I want to remind Congressman Ratcliffe and the Intelligence Community of the hold I placed on William Evanina for two years.
 
I placed that hold when I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
 
I’ve explained in detail many times before why I placed a hold on him and I’m not going to bother explaining it again other than to mention that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein agreed to give me documents and he never did.
 
He blamed Director Coats who then blamed Rosenstein.
 
It was your typical bureaucratic blame game.
 
Thanks to Acting Director Grenell and Attorney General Barr, the blame game ended.
 
But, importantly, especially for future administrations and for Congressman Ratcliffe, I want to make clear that the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction extends to the Intelligence Community.
 
In the authorizing resolution that created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate explicitly reserved for other standing committees, such as the Senate Judiciary Committee, independent authority to “study and review any intelligence activity” and “to obtain full and prompt access to the product of the intelligence activities of any department or agency” when such activity “directly affects a matter otherwise within the jurisdiction of such committee.”
 
The Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over all federal courts, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where a lot of intelligence activity takes place.
 
Of course, all of Congress, not just any one committee, has constitutional oversight authorities over the Intelligence Community.
 
So, in conclusion, Congressman Ratcliffe and the greater Intelligence Community, remember, you were created by statute, but Congress was created by the Constitution.
 
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