Afterimage Review

Trump Embraces The First Amendment Only When It Applies To Himself

Fusion GPS
Glenn Simpson, Partner of Fusion GPS, speaks on a panel at the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and Symposium on October 7, 2016 in Washington.Photo: Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and Symposium

Public release of the transcript of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson’s interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee indicates that Trump will show hostility to anybody who dares to challenge his authority.

On Tuesday, Jan 9, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly released the transcript of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson’s August 2017 interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 The 312-page transcript released earlier this week details Simpson’s 10-hour interview in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 22, 2017. Though the meeting was a closed-door interview, it was “unclassified” according to Deputy Chief Investigative Counsel Patrick Davis at the beginning of the session.

Background information : Fusion GPS 

Glenn Simpson is the founder of Fusion GPS, the firm hired by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative political website, in September 2015 to investigate Trump and other Republican presidential candidates. Early 2016, when Trump emerged as the likely presidential nominee for the Republican party, fundings for the investigation continued through the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, represented by the law firm Perkins Coie, from April 2016 to October 2016.

In June 2016, Fusion GPS commissioned Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer and former Secret Intelligence Service agent, to compose what is now known as the Donald Trump-Russia dossier. The 35-page dossier was compiled from June to December 2016 and provided to Perkins Coie. It was publicly released by Buzzfeed News in January 2017.

Reactions to the release of the transcript

The transcript from the August 2017 interview was publicly released by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who claims that she decided to publicize the documents because “the American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves.”

“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” Feinstein continued. “The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”

In August, Republican chairman Chuck Grassley said that the committee would vote on whether the transcript would be publicly released. A committee vote never took place, and last week tensions between Democrats and Republicans regarding the dossier escalated when Grassley and Rep. Senator Lindsey Graham sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department about Steele.

At the conclusion of the August interview Joshua Levy, the attorney for GPS founder Glenn Simpson, requested to keep the information from the interview confidential due to the “sensitivity of the matters discussed.” His request was noted at the time, but not decided upon by Jason Foster, the Chief Investigative Counsel for Chairman Grassley.

Republicans have largely been averse to Feinstein’s decision to publicize the document. An aide to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley stated that the release of the transcript in the “middle of an ongoing investigation” was “confounding.”

Trump, also, revealed his displeasure with Feinstein. In response to the release of the transcript, the president said in a tweet on Wednesday:

“The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace. Must have tough Primary!”

President Trump’s first tweet was quickly followed by another claiming, as he has many times before, that “there was no collusion”:

“The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes. Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control!”

The question here is whether Feinstein’s decision to publicize the document was justified in the face of an ongoing investigation. On the one hand, perhaps transparency is key in a government that hopes to genuinely serve its people: speculations concerning details of the interview were rising and President Trump’s repetitive public discrediting of the dossier as “fake news,” “false and fictitious,” and “a complete fraud” were not only juvenile but possibly damaging to the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation.

“The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues,” according to President Trump. But what Trump’s constant personal commentary regarding the allegations against him reveal are the thoughts of a leader who embraces the first amendment only when it applies to himself and his supporters.

If President Trump had objected to Feinstein’s decision based on the fact that it posed a threat to the ongoing process of the Mueller investigation, that would be understandable. But the defensive tone underlying his words rather points to the idea that Trump will show hostility to anybody who dares to challenge his authority.

Despite this, it is important to not disregard the possibly adverse effects that the release of the transcript will have on the ongoing Mueller investigation. The publication of Simpson’s interview might make future interviewees of the investigation far more reluctant to disclose information to the committee out of concern for their own safety as well as the safety of those around them. Based on the conditions to which he agreed to the interview as well as his statements during the meeting, it is painfully obvious that one of Simpson’s greatest concerns in participating in the meeting was the safety of his sources. With the release of his interview transcript, Simpson’s greatest fear could be realized. Mr. Levy’s request to keep the details of the interview confidential, though not promised at the time, was completely bashed when Feinstein publicized the transcript.

You can read the whole transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee interview here.

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