Washington reporters are accustomed to document drops on Fridays, but it was President Trump’s decision not to drop a document that made news this week.
Late Friday, the White House announced that Trump wouldn’t approve the immediate release of a memo prepared by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. The memo rebuts the now-famous Republican memo prepared under the direction of Rep. Devin Nunes, the committee chairman.
Yet Trump had no problem on Feb. 2 approving the release of the Nunes memo, which purported to demonstrate a partisan taint in the surveillance of former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
Why was Trump so determined to get the Nunes memo into circulation? Maybe the answer can be found in the tweet he posted the next day: “This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe.” (It didn’t, but that was what Trump’s supporters had been saying, and apparently the president believed it.)
Fast-forward to Friday night. In a letter to Nunes, White House Counsel Donald McGahn said that, although Trump was “inclined to declassify” the Democratic memo, he couldn’t because it contained “numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.” The memo might be released, McGahn suggested, if the committee edited the document to “mitigate the risks.”
Attached to McGahn’s letter was a letter to him from Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein (recently the target of Trump loyalists) and FBI Director Christopher Wray. In their letter Rosenstein and Wray refer to problematic passages in the Democratic memo that might compromise intelligence “sources and methods” and ongoing investigations.
So maybe Trump is just deferring to intelligence and law enforcement professionals? But wait a minute. He released the Republican memo despite a statement by the FBI expressing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Also, when Trump approved release of the Nunes memo on Feb. 2, McGahn wrote that the White House’s declassification review “included input from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice.” That’s not the same thing as saying that Trump followed their advice.
Even without getting their 10-page rebuttal memo into public circulation, Democrats have done an effective job of portraying the Nunes memo as a misleading hit job. Trump’s refusal to release their memo gives the Democrats a new argument: that the president is a hypocrite.
As Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer put it: “The president’s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling. The rationale for releasing the Nunes memo — transparency — vanishes when it could show information that’s harmful to him.”
If only the Democratic memo had contained the words “Trump vindicated.”