Trump delays release of Democratic memo, citing national security concerns
The White House has delayed the release of a Democratic memo on the government surveillance of a former Trump campaign advisor, saying that it contains sensitive information that would compromise national security.
In a letter sent Friday evening to the House Intelligence Committee, White House Counsel Donald McGahn said that Trump was “inclined to declassify” the Democrats’ 10-page document, but was holding back because of requested redactions from the Justice Department and the FBI.
“Given the public interest in transparency in these unprecedented circumstances,” the administration said Justice Department officials would consult with the committee on releasing a new version, McGahn wrote.
The decision came after FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein sent a letter to the White House pointing out specific parts of the Democratic memo they said might compromise national security or intelligence sources.
The letter says they enclosed a version of the memo, which was not released, marked to highlight information they thought could endanger “protection of intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations and other similarly sensitive information.”
The decision drew harsh criticism from Democrats and seems likely to exacerbate a deepening partisan divide on the House Intelligence Committee over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with a Russian scheme to interfere in the 2016 election.
The Senate’s senior Democrat, Charles E. Schumer of New York, said Trump had no such security concerns when he decided to release the Republican version of the memo.
“The President’s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling,” Schumer said in a statement. “The rationale for releasing the Nunes memo, transparency, vanishes when it could show information that’s harmful to him. Millions of Americans are asking one simple question: what is he hiding?”
Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, led by the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, have devoted much of their attention to questioning decisions made by the FBI and Justice Department in the course of the investigation.
Over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department, Republicans on Feb. 2 released a memo — written by Nunes’ staff — that criticized investigators’ actions in obtaining a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant on Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign advisor and energy businessman with ties to Russian authorities. He has not been charged.
The warrants were renewed three times, at 90-day intervals. The Nunes memo said all four FISA court applications were flawed because they relied heavily on intelligence gathered by Christopher Steele, a former British spy then working for an opposition research group under contract to lawyers for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The GOP memo says FBI and Justice Department officials held back information about Steele’s Democratic connections, and did not reveal Steele’s personal loathing of Trump.
The president seized on the memo to discredit the special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, claiming it “totally vindicates” him. Other Republicans said the Nunes memo had little relevance to the overall inquiry, which has so far produced two indictments and two guilty pleas, and includes an examination of whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.
Democrats say the GOP version of events omitted key details to paint a misleading picture. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, said the Democrats’ memo contained additional facts “that were necessary for the public to see that the FBI acted properly” in seeking the warrants on Page. The Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release the memo, pending the security review.
Schiff said the Democrats take the concerns of Justice Department officials seriously and hope to work with them to get the document cleared for release.
The letter from the White House came after the Intelligence Committee released a transcript of the Monday meeting that showed how the tensions on the committee have boiled over into sometimes hostile sniping. When Schiff asked about making the transcript public, Nunes responded by asking whether he wanted to question the stenographer.
“I have every confidence in the stenographer,” Schiff said. “She is not the one I am worried about in this room.”
Staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.
7:45 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from Democrats and background on the Nunes memo.
This article was originally published at 5:55 p.m.
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